The FAA had been working since 2012 to develop rules and procedures for the commercial use of drones. The regulations are needed to govern drone flights and keep them safely away from commercial and private aircraft traffic as well as pedestrians and other hazards on the ground.
A wide range of businesses, from e-retailer Amazon to agricultural businesses, photographers, energy production companies, news operations and others have been clamoring for the ability to use drones for several years, but have been prevented from doing so until the new rules were adopted. The companies argued that delays in implementing drone rules in the United States have kept businesses from benefiting from cost savings and new revenue from their use.
In July 2015, Amazon proposed the use of specific sections of U.S. airspace for drone flights so that it could push forward with its plans to provide package delivery flights across the United States. Amazon's idea is to designate airspace below 200 feet for drones that do surveying or inspections or take videos, while reserving airspace between 200 to 400 feet for delivery drones that are making their way over communities. Such a system would then connect drones as they are operating to an online network that would manage their flights in real time to keep them from harm's way. The airspace between 200 and 400 feet would allow drones to be flown autonomously, while being equipped with sophisticated sense-and-avoid technologies.
In a related matter, the FAA is still continuing to work on creating rules that would regulate the operation of commercial drones over groups of people, the spokesman told eWEEK. "We've already started a rulemaking effort on this," but no timeline has yet been set for finalizing them.
In April, an FAA committee recommended that some drone flights over humans be permitted if the devices are small enough not to cause serious injuries should a crash occur, according to an earlier eWEEK story. Presently, all drone flights are forbidden over people not connected to the flight of a drone. The recommendations came from the FAA's Micro Unmanned Aircraft Systems Aviation Rulemaking Committee, which was asked in March to come up with potential regulations "that would let certain unmanned aircraft operate over people not directly involved in the flight of the aircraft," according to the report.
The 27-member rulemaking committee, which included UAS manufacturers, UAS operators, standards organizations, researchers and academics, recommended the creation of four small UAS categories that would be "defined primarily by risk of injury to people below the flight path," the report states. "For each category, the group recommends assigning a potential risk linked to either weight or impact energy" of a UAS device. The recommendations also include operational restrictions and standards to minimize the risks associated with each category so that some drones would potentially be allowed to fly over humans.