Monday, February 16, 2015

FAA drafts limits on weight, speed, altitude, time and operator parameters for drone aircraft

Illustration from Forbes magazine, which broke the news
Drone aircraft could weigh no more than 55 pounds, fly no faster than 100 mph and go no higher than 500 feet above the ground, under draft rules issued by the Federal Aviation Administration. The FAA rules would also ban the use of drones near airports and and night, and require their operators to have a special certification and keep the drone "in line of sight" at all times, NPR reports.

The White House press office called drones "a potentially transformative technology in diverse fields such as agriculture, law enforcement, coastal security, military training, search and rescue, first responder medical support, critical infrastructure inspection, and many others." Presudent Obama issued "a presidential directive that will require federal agencies for the first time to publicly disclose where they fly drones in the United States and what they do with the torrents of data collected from aerial surveillance," Craig Whitlock of The Washington Post reports.

Neema Singh Guliani of the American Civil Liberties Union said the regulation is "an important step in restricting how the government uses this powerful surveillance technology" but "falls short of fully protecting the privacy of Americans" because it "allows the use of data gathered by domestic drones for any 'authorized purpose,' which is not defined, leaving the door open to inappropriate drone use by federal agencies."

"The unexpected release followed the inadvertent posting on the FAA’s website of a document analyzing the draft rules, which the agency failed to take down before drone enthusiasts found it and circulated it," Larry Downes of Georgetown University writes for the Post.

"The final rules still could be two or three years away," Fox News reports, because the draft must be approved by the White House and undergo "a public comment period, and tens of thousands of comments are anticipated. . . . The FAA currently bans all commercial drone flights except for those by a small number of companies that have been granted waivers. Congress has been leaning on the agency to move faster on regulations that would allow a wide variety of companies to employ drones. Under a law passed in 2012, the FAA was to issue final regulations by September 2015, but that appears unlikely."

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