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FAA Sets Flight Ceiling, Other Rules for Small Commercial Drones

Amazon Drone in the sky delivery a package

The Federal Aviation Administration on Tuesday gave final approval to rules governing small commercial drones that open the door to future regulations that may one day have a significant impact on the trucking industry.

The FAA on Tuesday approved landmark rules that allow drones 55 pounds and under to fly during the day at altitudes lower than 400 feet. Drones can be operated into twilight hours if they have anti-collision lighting, the administration said.

The rule, called `Part 107,’ now allows non-recreational pilots to fly the unmanned drones without having to obtain a pilot’s license for manned aircraft or a waiver to operate the unmanned aerial vehicle without such a license. Instead, operators will now have to obtain a certification lasting 24 months that requires they be at least 16 years old, pass an aviation knowledge exam and register their drone online.

Commercial uses that may have a profound effect on the way packages are delivered aren’t yet allowed under the rule because the unmanned drone must always be in sight of the operator, and control of the aircraft isn’t allowed from a moving vehicle, the FAA said in a 624-page report outlining Part 107.

“With this new rule, we are taking a careful and deliberate approach that balances the need to deploy this new technology with the FAA’s mission to protect public safety,” said Michael Huerta, the administrator of the FAA.

The agency said the new rules were necessary as obtaining a waiver to fly the drones was expensive and time-consuming. Part 107 could create more than 100,000 jobs and generate $82 billion for the U.S. economy in the next decade, the FAA said.

Drone operators can now more easily conduct research including crop monitoring, power and pipeline inspection in hilly or mountainous terrain and antenna inspections, among other uses, the administration said.

While trucking companies likely won’t be directly affected by the new rules enacted on Tuesday, the industry could clash with retailers looking to expand their modes of delivery. Amazon, UPS and DHL, for example, already are testing drones for deliveries. Retailers and delivery companies banking on drones say the technology will allow drivers to make more deliveries per hour without driving additional miles.

The FAA is working to expand commercial uses for drones, Huerta said, which could mean increased competition for the trucking industry down the road.

“This is just our first step,” he said. “We’re already working on additional rules that will expand the range of operations.”