May 20, 2014 – The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) is planning new rules to regulate the use of drones for commercial purposes, the Wall Street Journal reports.
Last week, the FAA reported that an American Airlines pilot came close to hitting a drone while flying towards a Tallahassee, Florida, airport in March. At 2,300 feet above the ground, the drone was flying unusually high, as current FAA regulations require unmanned aircraft to keep below 400 feet. According to the agency, serious damage could have occurred had the drone been sucked into a jet engine.
The FAA plans to propose new regulations on commercial drone use in November, but users fear that the agency’s rules might unduly restrict drone usage. Currently, all commercial drone users must seek FAA approval, and to date, only two commercial drones have been approved.
• The agency expects up to 7,500 drones in the sky within 5 years of their rule proposal, though drone makers insist that figure is too low.
• Chris Anderson, who runs 3D Robotics Inc., says that his company sells 2,000 autopilot systems each month to customers looking to build their own drones. Anderson says that DJI Innovations, a Chinese drone maker that produces both commercial and recreational drones, makes 10 times as many drones as his company does.
Currently, FAA inspectors look for reckless flying and monitor complaints to ensure that no drones are being used commercially without a permit.
According to Jim Williams, who heads the agency’s drone office, the FAA may soon allow companies to apply for certification for the use of drones for farming, filmmaking, and power line and oil and gas inspections — none of which are allowed under current rules. However, Williams says that the agency generally considers farmers, who often use drones to monitor their crops, to be "hobbyists," outside of the scope of the regulations.
Source: Jack Nicas and Andy Pasztor, "FAA, Drones Clash on Rules for Unmanned Aircraft," Wall Street Journal, May 11, 2014.