FAA finalizes rules for commercial use of drones


The Department of Transportation's Federal Aviation Administration released a set of operational rules Tuesday for day-to-day commercial use of small unmanned aerial systems, more commonly referred to as "drones."

The FAA said these rules, which take effect in late August 2016, will pave the way for integrating drones into U.S. airspace while prioritizing safety, job growth, scientific research and saving lives.

Industry estimates hold FAA drone rules could enable $82 billion in economic activity and create more than 100,000 jobs over the next decades.

The FAA rules do specifically approve power transmission line inspection as a possible application for drones. Averting accidents on such operations is one way the FAA anticipates these rules could save lives.

The rules apply to drones weighing less than 55 pounds that are involved in commercial, non-hobbyist flight operations.

Edison Electric Institute President Tom Kuhn issued a statement on the rules, thanking the FAA for its work.

"We agree with the FAA that this rule is just the first step. More work remains to be done to enjoy the full benefits of UAS, especially enabling the safe operation of unmanned aircraft beyond visual line of sight. With support from the FAA, EEI’s member companies can better utilize UAS to build and maintain a smarter, more resilient energy grid to deliver safe and reliable energy to our customers. We will continue to work with the FAA to demonstrate safe UAS usage and to develop guidelines that will allow companies to improve routine maintenance of our energy infrastructure and to help restore service to our customers more quickly following natural disasters," Kuhn said.

With regard to data collection and photography, the FAA said it encourages pilots to respect local and state laws when gathering data on people and property. The rules do not specifically deal with privacy issues at this time.

The rules require visual line of sight flight only, although a visual observer can maintain line of sight for the operator. Drones must yield right of way to other aircraft.

Drones and drone pilots must restrict their operations to daylight only, or 30 minutes before official sunrise to 30 minutes after official sunset with appropriate anti-collision lighting.

There is a maximum ground speed of 100 mph and a maximum altitude of 400 feet above ground level.  No operations from a moving vehicle are allowed unless the flight happens outside of a populated area.

Drone pilots must be certified or under the supervision of someone who is.

FAA airworthiness certification is not required. However, the remote pilot in command must conduct a preflight check of the small UAS to ensure that it is in a condition for safe operation.

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