The Federal Aviation Administration's rules for small drones, which were supposed to be issued almost four years ago, are finally out in the open.
While it is great news for commercial hobbyists and photographers – who were up until now confused whether their activities were legal or not – the rules are a huge disappointment for big companies like Amazon.
Following are some of the most important highlights:
- Unmanned aircraft must weigh less than 55 lbs. (25 kg).
- Night flights are prohibited under the proposed regulations.
- At all times the small unmanned aircraft must remain close enough for the operator to see the aircraft with vision unaided by any device other than corrective lenses.
- Must stay below 500 feet (152 m) in the air.
- Fly slower than 100 mph (160 km/h).
It’s worth noting here that these guidelines were supposed to be released by March 10, 2011, but until now the FAA consistently failed to come up with anything substantial.
In that lag, there were all sorts of drone incidents, from buzzing Seattle's Space Needle to a small drone crashing on the grounds of the White House on Jan. 27. After the latter drone crash, the government finally realized the urgency of regulating unmanned aircrafts.
FAA Administrator Michael Huerta said officials tried to remain “flexible” when compiling the guidelines. “We want to maintain today’s outstanding level of aviation safety without placing an undue regulatory burden on an emerging industry.”
But the new regulations may not appear as flexible to certain big companies – especially Amazon, which has been tirelessly working to roll out its drone delivery program Prime Air since December 2013.
Last July, Amazon sought the FAA’s permission to use drones; but, considering the latest guidelines, the online retailer has been snubbed.
There’s still hope for Prime Air though. The FAA says it is open to “comments on whether the rules should permit operations beyond line of sight, and if so, what the appropriate limits should be."