Commercial Drones Face Severe Restrictions with Proposed FAA Rules

DroneHobbyists and business owners have long been ready to capitalize on the opportunity unmanned aircraft systems (UAS), aka drones, provide for both fun and commercial activities. The multitude of possible applications for UAS permits have been on hold pending Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) action regarding the rules and regulations for unmanned aircraft. With potential applications running the gamut from delivering packages to innovating the forestry and farming industries, the noise around drones and what they could do to improve human lives is staggering.

Will FAA rules stymie commercial drones?

But the FAA’s recently released first draft of its Small UAS Notice of Proposed Rulemaking leaves would-be commercial and private drone operators wondering whether they’ll ever be able to fly their drones legally. The list of limitations includes:

  • Drones must fly within the operator’s line of sight at all times.
  • Drones may not fly over people.
  • Drones may not operate at night.
  • Drones may not fly higher than 500 feet above the ground.
  • Drones may not fly faster than 100 miles per hour.

The rules are part of a multi-phased approach to integrate drones within the U.S. National Airspace System (NAS). Federal officials envision allowing drones to perform duties such as aerial photography, crop monitoring, and inspection of cell towers, bridges, and other tall structures — but the limitations are making many proposed applications impossible. Among the list of disappointed companies is Amazon, which wanted to use drones to create a faster delivery system and has threatened to move its operations to drone-friendly nations if the restrictions are not lifted.

Hobbyist drones proliferate

In the meantime, hobbyist drone operations have escalated as drones appear for sale online and in some stores. As hobbyist drone usage increases, so have incidents of lost drones, called “flyaways.” The Washington Post reports that since 2009, public agencies have reported 23 accidents and 236 unsafe incidents with civilian-piloted drones.

Along with concerns about drones’ safety have come concerns over privacy, which have been far more pressing in the court of public opinion and have caused some people to register their properties as No Fly Zones. As drone laws continue to take shape, the upcoming months will reveal the fate for many commercial drone dreams when the FAA makes final rulings.

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