Date
24 October 2017
The draft rules say pilots must remain in the line of sight of radio-control drones, which could limit the commercial use of the technology. Photo: Reuters
The draft rules say pilots must remain in the line of sight of radio-control drones, which could limit the commercial use of the technology. Photo: Reuters

Draft US rules on drones bar package deliveries, pipeline tours

The US aviation regulator has proposed rules for commercial drone flights that would lift some restrictions but would still bar activities such as the delivery of packages and inspection of pipelines.

The long-awaited draft rules from the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) would require unmanned aircraft pilots to obtain special pilot certificates, stay away from bystanders and fly only during the day, Reuters reported. 

Flying speed would be limited to 100 miles per hour (160 kph) and an altitude of 500 feet (152 meters) above ground level.

The rules also say pilots must remain in the line of sight of radio-control drones, which could limit inspection of pipelines, crops and electrical towers that are among the major uses envisioned by companies.

The FAA acknowledged the limitation but said such flights could still be made with a secondary spotter working with the pilot of the drone.

The draft rules, nearly 10 years in the making, will still go through public consultation and revision before becoming final, a process expected to take at least a year.

If they survive in their current form, they would be unlikely to help Amazon.com in its quest to eventually deliver packages with unmanned drones, since they require an FAA-certified small drone pilot to fly the aircraft and keep it in line of sight at all times.

“We don’t consider or contemplate in this rule carrying packages outside of the aircraft itself,” FAA Administrator Michael Huerta said.

Other countries have taken a more permissive stance towards delivery drones. In September, logistics firm DHL said its use of drones to drop off packages to residents of a German island was the first such authorized flight in Europe.

“The United States cannot afford to lag behind other countries in technological innovation because of regulatory foot-dragging,” US Senator Cory Booker, a New Jersey Democrat, said in an emailed statement.

Huerta, who said the agency had tried to be “flexible” in writing the rules, said they set a framework and would evolve based on discussions with industry and technology developments.

The rules continue current restrictions against filming of crowds by news organizations, but Huerta said he expected those procedures to be developed as part of discussions with news groups.

Separately, President Barack Obama issued a memo outlining principles for government use of drones, covering such issues as privacy protection and oversight of federal drone use, the report said.

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RA/CG

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