New Rules Open Skies to Commercial Drones

The FAA predicts drones registered for commercial use could increase from 20,000 to 600,000 within a year.
Matthew HellerAugust 31, 2016
New Rules Open Skies to Commercial Drones

The Federal Aviation Administration’s new rules for the drone industry have gone into effect, with the agency predicting a 30-fold increase in commercial flights within a year.

There are 20,000 drones currently registered for commercial use in the U.S. but the new rules, which were finalized in June, will make it easier to become a commercial drone operator. More than 3,000 people preregistered to take the certification test on Monday — the first day of the new regime.

“The FAA forecasts there could be as many as 600,000 unmanned aircraft used commercially during the first year after this rule is in place,” FAA Administrator Michael Huerta said at a news conference.

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Under the new rules, businesses seeking to use a drone will no longer have to go through the red tape of applying for special permission from the FAA. Commercial flights are now broadly authorized as long as drones weigh no more than 55 pounds, are flown at an altitude below 400 feet, and at speeds no faster than 100 mph.

In addition, they can only be operated during daylight hours, up to 30 minutes before sunrise and after sunset.

Businesses can obtain special waivers from some of the restrictions if they can prove they can operate the flight safely. According to Huerta, the FAA has already approved almost 80 waiver applications, with the vast majority seeking permission to operate at night.

The Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International predicts the industry will create more than 100,000 jobs and generate more than $82 billion for the economy in the first 10 years of being integrated into the national airspace.

“If the federal government continues to embrace drone technology policy that balances safety and innovation, by 2025 our country will reach one million drone flights per day,” said Douglas Johnson, vice president for technology policy at the Consumer Technology Association.

As Digital Trends points out, drones are still not allowed to be flown out of the pilot’s sight, leaving the plans of Amazon and others to operate drone delivery services somewhere beyond the horizon.