FAA revising drone restrictions

On Jan. 14, the Federal Aviation Administration proposed some regulation changes that have the potential to change the way drones are used in the United States. If approved, the proposals will allow drone pilots to fly unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) at night and over groups of people.

Currently, the FAA (rarely) approves nighttime drone flights, only on a case-by-case basis. Similarly, drone flights over crowds are prohibited unless the operator has an FAA waiver.

The new rules would let properly trained pilots fly at night provided their drones are equipped with lights that are visible from three miles away. The drones over crowds rule revision would also put commercial drones in one of three categories based on their ability to inflict harm.

Category 1 drones are those weighing less than .55 pounds and would only have to abide by the FAA’s existing flight rules. Category 2 drones are those weighing more than .55 pounds and would transfer 11 pounds of kinetic energy to object after falling from the sky. And category 3 drones, which will not be permitted to fly over people, are those that would transfer 25 pounds of kinetic energy.

No More Unidentified Flying Objects

Although the FAA’s new rules would greatly ease restrictions on drone flight in America, they probably will not go into effect anytime soon. For one thing, the FAA wants safety and security input from the public before finalizing the new regulations. Typically, that process takes a year to year and a half.

And secondly, the agency wants a program in place that will allow law enforcement to quickly identify operators up and running before it opens up the friendly skies. As of January 2018, there were more than one million drones registered by the FAA in the United States.

Creating, testing, and approving a database that can be accessed by local police departments, airport security and all four branches of the military could be quite the undertaking.

On the other hand, Alphabet Inc. began testing a UAS identification program in December.

The Possibilities of Commercial Drone Flight

Although there are some significant hurdles to overcome, the potential FAA rule changes offer a range of lucrative possibilities for several different industries.

For instance, commercial drones could let journalists and photographers cover large events like concerts, cultural festivals, and protests cheaply and safely. Moreover, they could be a game changer for corporate logistics and crop cultivation. And if these changes are made and the public becomes more comfortable with the presence of drones, the $29 billion dream of drone delivery becomes much closer to reality.

Famously, Amazon predicted they would be able to ship packages via drone by 2018. Obviously, that never happened, in part due to various regulatory challenges. But if the FAA no longer blocks the “technological and operational advances” of UAS tech, expect Amazon Air drones to become as ubiquitous as smartphones and Marvel movies by the early 2020s.

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