Today (6.21.2016), the Department of Transportation’s Federal Aviation Administration announced that it has finalized the first operational rules (PDF) for “routine commercial use” of small unmanned aircraft systems (UAS or “drones”). But don’t look for your Amazon order to be flying to your house or business anytime soon.  “We are part of a new era in aviation, and the potential for unmanned aircraft will make it safer and easier to do certain jobs, gather information, and deploy disaster relief,” said U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx. “We look forward to working with the aviation community to support innovation, while maintaining our standards as the safest and most complex airspace in the world.”

According to industry estimates, the rule could generate more than $82 billion for the U.S. economy and create more than 100,000 new jobs over the next 10 years.

U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx

The new rule, which takes effect in late August, offers safety regulations for unmanned aircraft drones weighing less than 55 pounds that are conducting non-hobbyist operations. (“Non-hobbyist” means “commercial.”)

But don’t look for Amazon drones delivering packages yet

According to Verge, while this change will bolster the rapidly growing young industry, the new rules did not make room for any new kinds of autonomous flight. That means Amazon’s ambitious plan for drone delivery still won’t be legal anywhere in the US.


“Operators are required to maintain a visual line of sight with the drone at all times and can’t operate more than one mission at a time. For drone delivery to make sense, a fleet of fully autonomous units would have to operate well beyond line of sight, with a single operator managing dozens or even hundreds of drones at once.”

However, the FAA is providing a potential pathway for  future adjustments to the regulations that should keep Amazon working on its project. “The FAA is offering a process to waive some restrictions if an operator proves the proposed flight will be conducted safely under a waiver,” according to the announcement.

“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,” said FAA Administrator Michael Huerta. “But this is just our first step. We’re already working on additional rules that will expand the range of operations.”

Under the final rule, the person actually flying a drone must be at least 16 years old and have a remote pilot certificate with a small UAS rating, or be directly supervised by someone with such a certificate. To qualify for a remote pilot certificate, an individual must either pass an initial aeronautical knowledge test at an FAA-approved knowledge testing center or have an existing non-student Part 61 pilot certificate. If qualifying under the latter provision, a pilot must have completed a flight review in the previous 24 months and must take a UAS online training course provided by the FAA. The TSA will conduct a security background check of all remote pilot applications prior to issuance of a certificate.

Before today any for-profit entity flying a drone — from real estate agents to farmers to photographers — had to have a pilot’s license. The updated regulatory framework replaces that license with a knowledge test and certificate specific to flying a drone — allowing companies a much cheaper, faster, and simpler path to getting in the air.


Some areas of potential commercial use of drones

  • Agriculture
  • Search and Rescue
  • Aerial photography and video
  • Wildlife management
  • Security & Monitoring
  • Scientific and Environmental Research
  • Mapping
  • Real Estate Development
  • Communications

Photo: ThinkStock

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