The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) released its proposed set of rules for regulating the use of unmanned aircraft systems, commonly known as drones, for commercial purposes.
Drone experts have largely predicted any drone rules coming from the FAA to be "brutally restrictive," but many believe the proposed rules are fair and sensible. If approved, the FAA's rules will require commercial drone operators to operate their aircraft systems only during the day and within their visual line of sight. The FAA says drone operators must still see the drone at all times without the help of binoculars, although glasses are accepted as a vision aid.
Operators will be required to pass an aeronautical knowledge test to obtain certification to operate a drone, and they will need to maintain certification by passing additional knowledge tests every 24 months to ensure they are updated with the latest knowledge in aviation. The FAA estimates the cost of obtaining certificates to be around $300. No commercial drone operators under 17 years of age will be allowed.
Commercial drones will also not exceed more than 55 pounds in weight and can travel only up to 100 miles per hour and not above 500 feet up in the air, which is well below the airspace used by manned aircraft but a little above the 400 feet approved by the FAA in commercial operators approved under waivers. They are also not allowed to fly above other people aside from the operators.
"We have tried to be flexible in writing these rules," says FAA administrator Michael Huerta in a statement. "We want to maintain today's outstanding level of aviation safety without placing an undue regulatory burden on an emerging industry."
The FAA recognizes the role of drones as a potential powerhouse in driving economic gain and technological innovation, especially in fields such as agriculture, public security, search and rescue, and disaster response.
For the most part, trade groups applaud the FAA's proposal, which took roughly a decade to draft. Marion C. Blakey, president of the Aerospace Industries Association, says the rules "would pave the way for additional service organizations and industries to explore expanded operations" with the use of drones. This is echoed by Bryan Wynne, president and CEO of the Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International, who calls the rules "a good first step" toward taking full advantage of drone technology.
But at least one major company is not happy with the proposed rules. For Amazon, the FAA's proposal about restricting flight to within the operator's line of vision means its envisioned Prime Air drone delivery service is not going to happen anytime soon.
"The FAA's proposed rules for small (unmanned aircraft systems) could take one or two years to be adopted and, based on the proposal, even then those rules wouldn't allow Prime Air to operate in the United States," says Paul Misener, vice president of global public policy at Amazon. "The FAA needs to begin and expeditiously complete the formal process to address the needs of our business, and ultimately our customers."
Last year, Amazon said it would test its drone delivery service in other countries if the FAA does not provide permission to allow flying drones beyond the line of sight of the operator. Amazon is expected to submit its comment during the 60-day comment period allowed by the FAA before it proceeds to approve the regulation.
The proposed rules only apply to commercial drone operators and not to recreational and hobbyist drone operators, who are governed by a different set of rules.