The U.S. air safety regulator is drafting rules to permit small drones to be used for commercial purposes, a step toward allowing remote-control planes and helicopters to be deployed for everything from TV news coverage to monitoring crops.
Media companies, energy companies, farmers and other groups have been pressuring the Federal Aviation Administration to lift its ban on flying drones, known as unmanned aerial systems (UAS), for commercial use. Late last month, the agency’s watchdog said the FAA was likely to miss the Sept. 30, 2015 deadline that Congress set for integrating drones into the national airspace.
The FAA told Reuters that rules for small drones are “being drafted and will be issued for comment later this year.”
Industry sources said the FAA has a working draft of the regulations and is circulating it within the agency. The FAA declined to comment on whether it has formally drafted the rules but said it “is on track to issue a proposed rule for small UAS this year.”
Finalizing the regulations, however, could take several years, in part because they involve numerous FAA offices and other agencies, such as the Pentagon and Department of Homeland Security, said Ted Ellett, a former FAA chief counsel who is now an attorney at Hogan Lovells in Washington, D.C.
“Until the final rule is issued, which is going to be years from now, the exemption process is the only game in town,” Ellett said.
Twelve companies have petitioned the FAA to be exempt from the commercial drones ban, including eight film companies that want to use drones to shoot movie scenes. They say specially trained pilots would fly small drones only on closed sets, making them at least as safe as manned helicopters.
Drone maker Trimble Navigation Ltd is seeking an exemption for its 5-1/2-pound UX5 plane to photograph fields for surveyors or farmers, and Yamaha Motor Corp wants permission for its 141-pound RMAX helicopter to dust crops.
All the applications have been filed since late May, and the FAA is seeking public comment on them.
The clamor from industry to use drones has sparked safety and privacy concerns about skies buzzing with pilot-less aircraft that are measuring crops, supervising oil rigs, checking traffic, and delivering packages. Toy-sized drones can hover over homes, spy on people, crash into a crowd, or slam into a passenger jet.
The FAA’s draft rules for small drones are likely to require the remote-control pilot and the plane to be certified under standards unique to small UAS. The planes also must weigh less than 55 pounds (25 kg), stay within the line of sight of the pilot, and keep at least 5 miles (8 km) away from airports.
Alan is serial entrepreneur, active angel investor, and a drone enthusiast. He co-founded DRONELIFE.com to address the emerging commercial market for drones and drone technology. Prior to DRONELIFE.com, Alan co-founded Where.com, ThinkingScreen Media, and Nurse.com. Recently, Alan has co-founded Crowditz.com, a leader in Equity Crowdfunding Data, Analytics, and Insights. Alan can be reached at alan(at)dronelife.com