April 8, 2016—A federal advisory group has proposed rules to significantly expand uses of small commercial drones, including the first regulatory framework to conduct risk assessments of operations such as news videos, power line inspections, and other types of flights over urban areas or crowds of people.
So far, U.S. regulators have banned operation of any commercial drones—even those weighing just a few ounces or made from soft materials—from flying over large numbers of people. But that restriction has rankled many industry officials, prompting creation of the advisory panel to come up with compromises covering everything from the tiniest drones to those possibly weighing dozens of pounds.
The specifics laid out stop short of permitting widespread use of unmanned aerial vehicles to deliver packages—one of the most promising, though controversial, potential applications—because they are primarily focused on smaller drones than typically would be used for such proposes. And the proposal still envisions restricting drone flights within sight of a single operator on the ground.
But by opening the door to flights over densely populated areas, the committee sketched out a possible trajectory for future safety analyses of package-delivery concepts.
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