(Adds reaction from Amazon, U.S. farmers, privacy advocates)
By Alwyn Scott
Feb 15 (Reuters) – The U.S. aviation regulator
proposed rules on Sunday for flying drones for commercial
purposes that would lift some restrictions but would still bar
activities such as the delivery of packages and inspection of
pipelines that have been eyed by companies as a potentially
breakthrough use of the technology.
The long-awaited draft rules from the Federal Aviation
Administration governing use of unmanned aircraft require pilots
to obtain special pilot certificates, stay away from bystanders
and fly only during the day. They limit flying speed to 100
miles per hour (160 kph) and the altitude to 500 feet (152
meters) above ground level.
The rules also say aircraft must remain in the line of sight
of its radio-control pilot, which could limit inspection of
pipelines, crops, and electrical towers that are one of the
major uses envisioned by companies.
The FAA acknowledged the limitation but said those flights
could be made possible with a secondary spotter working with the
pilot of the drone.
“This rule does not deal with beyond line of sight, but does
allow for the use of a visual observer to augment line of sight
by the operator of the unmanned aircraft,” FAA Administrator
Michael Huerta said in a conference call with reporters on
The draft rules, nearly 10 years in the making, still must
undergo public comment 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
line of sight at all times – factors not envisioned in the
online retailer’s plan.
Huerta also said, “We don’t consider or contemplate in this
rule carrying packages outside of the aircraft itself.”
Amazon vice president of global public policy Paul Misener
said that the proposal would bar the company’s delivery drones
in the United States. Misener also urged the FAA to address the
needs of Amazon and its customers as it carried out its formal
“We are committed to realizing our vision … and are
prepared to deploy where we have the regulatory support we
need,” Misener said in an emailed statement.
RULES EXPECTED TO EVOLVE
Huerta said the rules set a framework for regulating drone
flights and would evolve based on ongoing 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
Industry experts said the rules did not contain onerous
pilot standards that could have severely restricted commercial
They would not require drone pilots to undergo the medical
tests or flight hours required of manned aircraft pilots.
Commercial drone operators would need to be at least 17 years
old, pass an aeronautical knowledge test and be vetted by the
Transportation Security Administration.
“We have tried to be flexible in writing these rules,” said
Separately, President Barack Obama issued a memo outlining
principles for government use of drones, covering such issues as
privacy protections and oversight of federal drone use.
The draft rules, while still restrictive, appeared less
onerous than the industry had been worried about. There had been
concern, for example, that the FAA would require drone operators
to attend a flight-training school and obtain a certification
similar to that of a manned aircraft pilot.
“I am very pleased to see a much more reasonable approach to
future regulation than many feared,” said Brendan Schulman, a
lawyer who works on drone issues at Kramer Levin Naftalis &
Frankel in New York.
The proposal would benefit U.S. farmers and ranchers as it
would enable them to scout fields more efficiently, said RJ
Karney, director of Congressional relations at the American Farm
The Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International
(AUVSI), also praised the draft. “This is a good first step in
an evolutionary process that brings us closer to realizing the
many societal and economic benefits of UAS technology,” AUVSI
President Brian Wynne said in a statement.
The model aircraft community was more cautious.
As hobbyists had worried, the rule does not address a large
category of people who have purchased drones but don’t know
about the safety codes of hobby groups, and may inadvertently
fly them into dangerous situations.
The FAA has tried to address that group by publishing fliers
and websites that point out the safety risks. Huerta said the
agency would also take action against those operating drones
carelessly or recklessly.
“While we have not yet fully reviewed the proposed rule, we
can say that regulations relating to the commercial use of small
unmanned aircraft systems (sUAS) should not apply to the
longstanding, educational hobby of flying model aircraft,” the
Academy of Model Aeronautics (AMA), the world’s largest hobby
group, with 170,000 members, said in a statement.
Privacy advocates were also concerned that the FAA’s draft
rules did not place enough limits on when law enforcement
agencies would be permitted to use drones for surveillance.
Sunday’s proposal “allows the use of data gathered by
domestic drones for any ‘authorized purpose’, which is not
defined, leaving the door open to inappropriate drone use by
federal agencies,” said Neema Singh Guliani, legislative counsel
at the Washington legislative office of the American Civil
Lierties Union, in an emailed statement.
(Additional reporting by Lucia Mutikani in Washington and Peter
Rudegeair in New York; Editing by Mark Heinrich, Frances Kerry
and Nick Zieminski)