You’ve probably noticed that “drones” (unmanned miniature aircraft) have been talked about quite often these days. They’re used by the military to fight terrorism, they’re used by film-makers to capture breath-taking aerial footage, they’re even used by hobbyists as a way to show off in front of their neighbors. They’ve been parodied in shows like Parks & Recreation and South Park, and they’ve been proposed as new delivery systems for Amazon and Google.
Given their status as both a public curiosity and a lightning rod for controversy, it was only a matter of time before an official legal policy was put into place. On February 15, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) proposed a new set of rules to govern the use of unmanned aircraft. As FAA Administrator Michael Huerta explains, “We have tried to be flexible in writing these rules. We want to maintain today’s outstanding level of aviation safety without placing an undue regulatory burden on an emerging industry.”
Amongst the new rules for operating unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) are the following:
- Aircraft must weigh less than 55 lbs. (25 kg).
- Aircraft must remain within the visual line-of-sight (VLOS) of the operator or visual observer at all times.
- At all times the small unmanned aircraft must remain close enough to the operator for the operator to be capable of seeing the aircraft with vision unaided by any device other than corrective lenses.
- Aircraft may not operate over any persons not directly involved in the operation.
- Daylight-only operations (official sunrise to official sunset, local time).
- Airspeed is not to exceed 100 mph (87 knots).
- Altitude not to exceed 500 feet above ground level.
US Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx explains “Technology is advancing at an unprecedented pace and this milestone allows federal regulations and the use of our national airspace to evolve to safely accommodate innovation.”
What this means
Reaction to the proposal – both positive and negative – was almost immediate. It was noted that the rules would put a damper on the aforementioned delivery systems by Amazon and Google. On the other hand, the rules are lenient enough to give private users a great deal wiggle room, which should come as good news to the growing DIY drone industry. It’s also worth noting that these rules are still at the proposal stage and the FAA is encouraging feedback from the public.
With the potential to become an incredibly lucrative industry, the use of drones doesn’t seem to be ending anytime soon. But with mounting concerns of privacy rights and personal freedoms, the specifics of regulation will ultimately determine how (and if) the industry will flourish. As with all forms of technology, the device itself isn’t as important as the person controlling it.