FAA issues drone regulations, but drone delivery services await more rules

The new regulations will facilitate the use of drones for uses such as utility inspections or crop monitoring, but more rules are needed before Amazon or Google can deploy delivery services.

The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) on Tuesday issued its first formal rules for commercial drone use, making it easier to deploy drones for uses such as utility inspections or agriculture. Previously, drone operations required special FAA permission.

The regulations, however, include limitations -- such as requiring drone operators to keep their unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) within their line of sight -- that effectively prohibit the sort of drone delivery services envisioned by Amazon and Google.

"With this new rule, we are taking a careful and deliberate approach that balances the need to deploy this new technology with the FAA's mission to protect public safety," FAA administrator Michael Huerta said in a statement. "But this is just our first step. We're already working on additional rules that will expand the range of operations."

The administration expressed its interest in facilitiating drone flights, saying that its new rules could generate more than $82 billion for the U.S. economy and create more than 100,000 new jobs over the next 10 years.

The new rules, which take effect in late August, cover unmanned aircraft drones weighing less than 55 pounds that are conducting non-hobbyist operations. In addition to keeping drones within their line of sight, operators are only allowed to fly them during daylight or during twilight if the UAS is equipped with anti-collision lights.

Flights are mostly restricted to a maximum altitude of 400 feet above ground, and operators are barred from flying a drone above unprotected people on the ground who aren't directly involved in the UAS flight.

Operators must be at least 16 years old and have a remote pilot certificate with a small UAS rating, or be supervised by someone with a certificate. They must also pass a TSA background check.

The FAA will waive some of the restrictions for operators who can prove their proposed flight will be conducted safely. The new rules don't really cover privacy issues, an issue that largely falls under the purview of the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA).

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