FAA rules out Internet drones and delivery copters for now

28 February 2015 by Steve Blum
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Amazon’s planned drone deliver service didn’t get any love from the Federal Aviation Administration, nor did proposals to use unmanned aircraft as Internet access points, but at least the door is now open for companies to use the technology for commercial purposes. After two years of thinking about it, the FAA released draft regulations that would allow commercial drone use within limits. A summary is here.

For example, operators (or an observer) need to maintain visual line of sight with the drone, which can’t deliver cargo and can’t fly any higher than 500 feet or faster than 100 miles an hour. You can’t fly over “any person not involved in the operations”. Although still very restrictive, the rules aren’t as bad as feared – earlier rumors had the FAA bowing to lobbyists for pilots and requiring full on licensing and other commercial aviation red tape. That didn’t happen.

The rules aren’t final yet. The FAA is thinking about carving out an exception for very light drones, up to 2 kilograms, that might open the door for flights over people or even autonomous operation.

Amazon isn’t happy, saying it might move drone delivery research and development out of the U.S. To make a package delivery service work, the rules would have to allow cargo drop offs, autonomous flying out of the view of operators and flights pretty much anyway, whether or not people were around. That’s not on offer.

The FAA’s proposed rules aren’t particularly relevant to proposals to use unmanned aircraft as – take your pick – tall towers or low flying satellites for telecommunications purposes. But the draft does open the door to more experimentation, so it’s a step in the right direction.