US moves step closer to commercial drone use

Aeryon Scout UAV in flight.
Drones will take to the skies to inspect crops and infrastructure as US civil aviation authorities moved a step closer Wednesday to allowing their widespread commercial use.

But at a drone industry conference in Atlanta, Georgia, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) failed to set out long-awaited rules for their use, amid criticism that regulatory foot-dragging is eroding US competitiveness in a .

"Government has some of the best and brightest minds in aviation, but we can't operate in a vacuum," FAA chief Michael Huerta told the Unmanned Systems 2015 gathering, announcing an FAA-industry partnership.

"This is a big job and we'll get to our goal of safe, widespread UAS (, or ) integration more quickly by leveraging the resources and expertise of the industry."

Under the Pathfinder initiative, the CNN cable network will experiment with drones in urban areas for newsgathering, Huerta said.

BNSF Railway, part of investor Warren Buffett's Berkshire Hathaway group, will use drones to inspect its vast , and UAS manufacturer PrecisionHawk will do likewise for crop monitoring.

While CNN drones will be restricted to flying within the sight of their pilots, BNSF and PrecisionHawk will experiment with flying beyond direct line-of-vision.

Missing from the list are Amazon and Google, which have publicly voiced frustration with current restrictions on flying drones in US skies—with both going abroad to conduct their own test flights.

The two tech giants are particularly keen to use drones for parcel deliveries.

Free press violation?

Last year, more than a dozen US news organizations—CNN not among them—argued in a legal brief that FAA policy represented a violation of the Constitution's guarantee of freedom of the press.

Citing safety concerns, the FAA has been moving slowly—some say too slowly—towards finalizing a clear set of regulations for operating small drones in busy American airspace.

In the interim, it says drones under 55 pounds (25 kilograms) must fly no higher than 400 feet (122 meters), well away from airports or large crowds and within their pilots' line of sight at all times, and never for commercial purposes.

A handful of companies have been granted so-called Section 333 exemptions to operate drones in a specific place for a specific purpose, such as filming motion pictures.

"Integrating unmanned aircraft in the National Airspace System is a big job (and) we're determined to get it right," the FAA said in its defense on its Twitter feed Wednesday.

The rules are nevertheless flouted, with real estate agents using drones to film properties for sale and reality TV shows putting them to use to get unique photo angles in remote locations.

The Pathfinder initiative goes beyond a research agreement that the FAA struck with CNN in January and a Section 333 exemption that it granted to BNSF in March, an FAA spokesman told AFP.

"It involves research that will help the companies develop technology for their future operations and give the FAA data to foster integration of UAS into the nation's airspace beyond what can be approved in a 333 exemption or through the small UAS rule," he said.

Explore further

FAA streamlines rules to speed up permits to fly drones (Update)

© 2015 AFP

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User comments

May 06, 2015
If the automobile were invented today if would be illegal for all except the military and the most favored elites.

Why do you people continue to vote for luddites (hint: the government and its bureaucracy are leftists)?

May 07, 2015
Watchers do not want to watch that's for one. But second most important fact is the FAA is loaded with pilot lobby that now has monopoly for news, film, entertainment or commercial aerial surveys and they do not want to let go. Old Guild play to stifle progress of technology.
Already for decades pilots ranks were being decimated by collapse of world air transportation volume and continuing economic crisis. Interesting take on role of professional guilds in historic perspective I found at:

May 07, 2015
"In the interim, it says drones under 55 pounds (25 kilograms) must fly no higher than 400 feet (122 meters), well away from airports or large crowds and within their pilots' line of sight at all times, and never for commercial purposes." While the first part of this guidance is logical and probably legal, once you add "never for commercial purposes." it likely become illegal and Constitutionally problematic - unless commercial access is granted through appropriate licenses. All in all the legal side of this is too far ahead of the technological limitations. Another sign that we have more legislative and legal resources than we have the ability to manage effectively.

May 07, 2015
The 'F' is FAA stands for fascism.

Of course industry wants the govt to sanction risky endeavors to limit the liability of the user.
The govt should stay out of the way and when UAVs cause injury, damage and death let the insurance companies pay.
In the auto industry, the privately funded IIHS conducts more stringent auto testing than the govt since the insurance industry has much to lose.
It is the same reason UL was created, to certify new electrical to prevent fires.

May 08, 2015
Somehow I doubt that the writers of the US constitution intended the freedom of the press to mean that journalists are exempt from all laws. Not being able to get video from a drone does not impede their ability to do their jobs. There are restrictions of all technologies that use radio frequency, including broadcast TV and radio, that mean a journalist cannot transmit without an appropriate license. That does far more to restrict press freedom than having to use a helicopter to get video because the can't use a drone. There are many other laws that a fool could argue impose limits on press freedom but few sane people would agree.

The rest of the world will adopt commercial use of drones and have a competitive advantage over the US.

May 11, 2015
"Government has some of the best and brightest minds in aviation, but we can't operate in a vacuum,"

That sentence can be read SO wrong...

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