FAA on Drones: Fly But Not That High

PARIS — The Federal Aviation Administration has released proposed rules for small drones for commercial use, making the first move – at long last — to start integrating these pilotless, untethered flying machines into American airspace.

The FAA’s proposed rules stipulating operational limits, operator certification and aircraft requirements are draft regulations that must still undergo public and federal review before official adoption. They’re not expected to take effect until 2017 at the earliest.

The newly released draft renders obsolete FAA rules — antiquated in the eyes of the drone industry — that require, for example, [drone] operators to be “licensed pilots.”

However, still intact are “see and avoid” principles (“[drones] must always see and avoid manned aircraft. If there is a risk of collision, the UAS operator must be the first to maneuver away.”); aircraft registration requirement; [drones] must fly within line of sight of the operator.

The stipulation for line-of-sight operation appears to make impractical plans for companies such as Amazon to deliver packages via drones.

Has the FAA gone far enough with these newly proposed rules to encourage drones in the U.S. aviation system? The answer will differ, depending on where one’s position in the drone debate. Regardless, drone makers now have a framework to work with. Until now, the FAA has simply banned — without a consistent system of enforcement — any use of commercial drones.

Clearly, in some areas, the FAA is willing to make only incremental changes. For example, under existing rules, drones can’t fly higher than 400 feet. The new regulations put the ceiling at 500 feet.

There are already complaints that the FAA’s proposed regulations are likely to slow down the drone market. The federal agency sees it differently, estimating that the new rules will prompt roughly 7,000 businesses to get permits within three years.

What are allowed, what are not
In a nutshell, here’s what the proposed rules allow:

Operational limits

  • maximum weight: 55 pounds
  • maximum altitude: 500 feet
  • maximum speed: 100 mph
  • must remain in the line of sight of the operator at all times

Operator requirements

  • at least 17 years old
  • must have passed an initial aeronautical knowledge test and
  • obtain an operating certificate
  • must pass a recurrent aeronautical knowledge test every 24 months and
  • be vetted by the Transportation Security Administration

Banned by the draft regulations include night-time flying and drone flight above 18,000 feet. With special Air Traffic Control clearance, drones can be flown at altitudes between 500 feet and 18,000 feet but no exception is allowed above 18,000 feet.

Drone regulations are not easy. This is because drones come in many sizes and functions. Further, drone innovations are moving much faster than the regulatory process.

FAA administrators aren’t oblivious to that reality. They say they’ve tried to be flexible in writing these rules.

In a statement, Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx said, “Technology is advancing at an unprecedented pace and this milestone allows federal regulations and the use of our national airspace to evolve to safely accommodate innovation.”

Specifically, the FAA asked for comments on “whether the rules should permit operations beyond line of sight, and if so, what the appropriate limits should be.”

Until now, the FAA has banned the use of commercial drones. Some companies — such as film companies Aerial Mob and HeliVideo Productions — have exemptions from the FAA to use drones.

To read the rest of this article, visit EBN sister site EETimes.

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