Thursday, February 25, 2016

Federal Aviation Administration to Consider Allowing Small Drones to Fly Over People: Shift could pave way for package deliveries and other commercial flights

The Wall Street Journal
By Jack Nicas
Feb. 24, 2016 6:28 p.m. ET

Federal regulators plan to consider rules that would allow small commercial drones to fly over people, a policy shift that could enable package deliveries and other commercial flights.

The Federal Aviation Administration said Wednesday it will convene a task force to develop recommendations for design standards and operating rules for commercial drone flights over bystanders, something the FAA has previously said it would prohibit.

The task force has until April 1 to deliver recommendations, an exceptionally fast timeline for the aviation rule-making process—though the agency used a similar timeline for recreational-drone registration rules last year.

The FAA proposed long-awaited rules for commercial drone flights last year that would prohibit the devices from flying over bystanders. That restriction would preclude many commercial drone flights, including news reporting and inspecting infrastructure like utility poles in urban areas. The rules would also effectively ban the sorts of drone deliveries planned by Inc. and Google parent Alphabet Inc.

Even if the FAA allows small commercial drones to fly over people, tech companies pursuing delivery drones still face other regulatory hurdles in the U.S., including a prohibition on carrying external loads.

Amazon and Google have said they aim to start using drones to deliver packages to consumers within the next two years, though both companies acknowledge the regulatory challenges.

As part of the proposed commercial-drone rules, the FAA was considering relaxing restrictions for drones weighing less than 4.4 pounds. The agency said Wednesday that it decided against creating a new category of rules for such devices. Instead, it convened the task force to figure out how to allow small drones to fly over people.

The FAA allows recreational drone flights over people as long as they stay below 400 feet and away from airports.

Original article can be found here:

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