(Source: USA Today)
Four companies won approval Wednesday to fly commercial drones to conduct aerial surveys, monitor construction sites and inspect oil flare stacks, the Federal Aviation Administration announced.
The exemptions for Trimble Navigation Limited, VDOS Global, Clayco, Inc. and Woolpert, Inc. come as the FAA drafts comprehensive regulations for drones to share the skies with passenger planes.
“The FAA’s first priority is the safety of our nation’s aviation system,” FAA Administrator Michael Huerta said. “Today’s exemptions are a step toward integrating (unmanned aerial systems) operations safely.”
A House committee is holding a hearing Wednesday on the development of drone regulations.
The latest approvals follow seven in September to seven film and video companies. The first commercial drone permit over land came in June, when BP oil company and drone manufacturer Aero-Vironment were approved to fly aerial surveys over Alaska’s North Slope.
But the developing industry, with high-profile members such as Amazon studying drones for package deliveries, is eager to expand commercial uses. The FAA received 167 applications for commercial uses.
The FAA is expected to release a proposal by the end of year for general use of commercial drones that weigh up to 55 pounds. But the proposal is expected to generate enormous public comment and could take months or years to be approved.
In a letter this week to FAA, Amazon said its indoor testing of drones must now move outdoors to practice in real-world conditions. Paul Misener, the company’s vice president of global public policy, said the company might move its research abroad.
The FAA has been developing rules for drones since Congress set a deadline of September 2015. The agency set up six experimental sites across the country, to learn more about how they operate.
The key safety element is to prevent drones from colliding with other aircraft, or with people on the ground. That means ensuring ways for other aircraft to detect and avoid drones, and for drones to land safely if they lose contact with remote pilots.
Up to now, hobbyists could fly drones close to the ground, and researchers or public-safety groups could ask for special permission to fly higher or in riskier situations.
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