Regardless of whether the weight comes from the aircraft itself or the payload, the total weight can’t exceed 55 pounds (25KG).
There is also an important difference between the rules for drones and established rules for aircraft operations. The FAA does not require an airworthiness certificate for drones. However, the pilot must perform a pre-flight inspection prior to flight and the drone must be registered with the FAA.
Beyond that, drone operations are for daylight only and require good weather. Twilight operations are allowed if the drone has appropriate lighting. Operations near airports have additional requirements, primarily involving communications with air traffic control. Notably, the FAA states that most of these requirements can be waived.
What this boils down to is that most of the current commercial uses of drones are allowed, as long as the aircraft and the pilot meet the requirements. Companies that want to use a drone to take real estate videos can do it fairly easily and cheaply. Television news networks can now launch drones with a minimum of delay and red tape as long as they don’t fly over people who aren’t involved in the operation of the drone.
An FAA press release addresses a number of potential uses including inspections of cell towers and railroad tracks. But it’s clear that the real potential goes far beyond just inspections.
During the last few months since hobbyist drones have received approval, companies have started innovating. Now they want to use drones to fly tools to workers on tall buildings and bridges. Other companies want to use them to monitor pollution and archeologists want to use them for visual and thermal imaging of potential research sites.
This level of innovation is sure to continue. Just use your imagination as to what you might be able to do if only you could lift something higher, view something from above, or deliver something from the sky. While you won’t see flying pizza just yet, there have already been tests of delivering defibrillators to first responders, spotting wildfires and managing crowds.
Reaching out further, how long will it be before we see a temporary internet site on a drone? Or how long will it be before we see find drones being used to control mosquitos? There’s no technical reason such a thing can’t be done today.
But I suspect that the uses that emerge will eclipse what I can think of because what a drone really offers is an inexpensive, safe and fairly reliable access to any elevated space that is normally out of reach of humans and is too expensive or impractical to be reached by other types of aircraft.
The remaining question is now that it’s available what will you do with it?