The Federal Aviation Administration has finally released its long-awaited proposal for new regulations on commercial drones. The proposed rules are not as restrictive as some feared, but they do limit drone flight enough to render something like Amazon's Prime Air delivery scheme virtually impossible.
Up until now, it's been illegal to fly drones for commercial purposes without a special exemption from the FAA. With the new rules, commercial drone use would be legal under certain guidelines. All of these rules apply to "small UAS" – 55 pounds and below.
First of all, not just anyone can fly a drone. All drone "operators" must be at least 17 years old and must pass an aeronautical knowledge test and obtain an FAA UAS operator certificate. Not only that, but they must maintain certification by passing the knowledge test every two years.
There are major restrictions on how these operators can fly their drones. This is what kills Amazon's (and now many other companies') drone delivery dreams:
The proposed rule would require an operator to maintain visual line of sight of a small UAS. The rule would allow, but not require, an operator to work with a visual observer who would maintain constant visual contact with the aircraft. The operator would still need to be able to see the UAS with unaided vision (except for glasses). The FAA is asking for comments on whether the rules should permit operations beyond line of sight, and if so, what the appropriate limits should be.
“We have tried to be flexible in writing these rules,” said FAA Administrator Michael Huerta. “We want to maintain today’s outstanding level of aviation safety without placing an undue regulatory burden on an emerging industry.”
Amazon, as you might expect, isn't thrilled with the FAA's new rules.
Amazon isn't very happy with new drone rules. pic.twitter.com/mbrpa0pa53
— Farhad Manjoo (@fmanjoo) February 15, 2015
The line of sight rule is the real killer, and many companies argue that the technology to safely operate drones outside the line of sight is available.
The public comment period, which will surely include a lot of conversation about "stifling business innovation", could take as long as two years.