Go time: US opens up its skies for commercial drones
After a lengthy period of consideration, the US' first blanket drone laws for commercial drone flight have now come into effect, making it easier than ever for businesses to fly the unmanned vehicles for profit. The new rules clear the way for photographers, surveyors and realtors to take flight, but unfortunately for Amazon and a number of other players, still leave the notion of drone deliveries off somewhere in the distance.
Formally known as Part 107, the laws were announced back in June and were implemented on Monday. Essentially, they replace the need to apply for a special permit if you want to use drones for business. Now anyone can make use of the technology in the pursuit of profit, provided of course that they meet some criteria and follow some basic guidelines.
First and foremost, pilots must land themselves a remote pilot certificate by taking a knowledge test at one of the Federal Aviation Administration's testing centers. Following this certification, they must only use drones that weigh less than 55 lb (25 kg), fly no higher than 400 ft (122 m) and no faster than 100 mph (161 km/h), while flying at night time is a no-no. Critically, pilots cannot operate more than one drone at a time, must not fly over people, and the aircraft must remain within sight at all times.
So the rules fit the bill just nicely for a great number of applications, such as mining, aerial photography or cinematography, carrying out inspections and possibly some disaster relief scenarios. The FAA is of the view that these new rules could generate more than US$82 billion and create 100,000 new jobs over the next decade, so their implementation is significant.
But they do mean that Amazon, Google and smaller companies like Flirtey looking to kick off autonomous drone deliveries will have to continue playing the waiting game. There's no definitive timeline on how long this might be, but the FAA does note that this is the first step and in the future it will introduce laws that accommodate drone operations not catered to by Part 107.
Specifically, it lists beyond the line of sight operations, flying over people, flights in urban centers and flights at night as needs it will address in the future. So don't be surprised if you now see more drones buzzing about the US skies, just don't expect any of them to be bringing you pizza for a while yet.