Officially, they’re called Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS), although most people know them as drones.
The Federal Aviation Administration recently unveiled a slate of proposed regulations that would allow these increasingly popular unmanned aircraft to be used for non-recreational purposes, such as aerial photography, crop monitoring and structural inspections.
The regulations cover everything from a drone’s maximum weight (55 pounds), to hours of operation (daylight flights only), altitude restrictions (no higher than 500 feet above ground level) and speed limits (100 mph or 87 knots). Although operators would not require a private pilot’s license, they would have to be at least 17 years old, pass an aeronautical knowledge test and receive an FAA certificate prior to flying a drone.
Operators would also be required to keep drones within their line of sight, according to the proposed regulations, which were announced in February 2015.
The FAA, recognizing the speed with which technology is advancing, included in its proposed regulations the possibility for micro-drones, unmanned aircraft weighing less than 4.4 pounds, as well as future designs and models.
The proposed rules lean heavily toward safety, with provisions designed to avoid issues with other aircraft as well as with people and structures. The proposed regulations also prohibit an operator from dropping any object from a drone while in flight.
“We want to maintain today’s outstanding level of aviation safety without placing an undue regulatory burden on an emerging industry,” FAA Administrator Michael Huerta said in a statement.
The FAA issued its recommendations just a month after a small drone crested the fence of the White House and crashed into a tree on the South Lawn. Investigators said the recreational operator was flying the drone near the White House in the middle of the night when he lost control of the UAS.
The proposed regulations would not apply to recreational drone use by hobbyists; those aircraft are subject to other provisions.
The FAA began allowing the use of drones for scientific research, border patrol, search and rescue, and other public missions more than 20 years ago. In late 2013, the agency selected six locations across the country for UAS test sites, and in summer 2014, it approved the first drone operations for commercial purposes in domestic airspace, specifically for aerial surveys in Alaska by the energy industry.
Since then, the FAA has issued about two dozen waivers for commercial drone use for a variety of purposes, including utility inspections, and TV and film production.
The Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International estimates that full integration of UAS into the nation’s airspace could create nearly 104,000 jobs by 2025. That could produce an economic impact of $82 billion, according to the trade group’s 2013 report.
Amazon is among the major companies eyeing expanded use of drones. It hopes eventually to use the unmanned vehicles to get packages to customers within 30 minutes.
“One day, seeing Amazon Prime Air will be as normal as seeing mail trucks on the road today, resulting in enormous benefits for consumers across the nation,” the e-commerce company stated in a July 2014 letter to the FAA’s Huerta.