Today John S. Duncan, Director of the Federal Aviation Administration’s Flight Standards Service issued an Advisory Circular detailing new rules designed to regulate and phase in small commercial drones.   Read the full AC No: 107-2 here.

It is a first step in the government’s efforts to properly regulate and harness the explosive growth in commercial drones.  The regulations take a cautious approach, setting guidelines that clearly curtail the machines from realizing their fullest capabilities.  Drones are limited to an altitude of 400 feet,  55 pounds and must fly within the line of site of the operator.

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

photo credit SkyCatch

The new rules limit commercial drones to mostly daylight hours and require certification every two years.  Operators can be as young as 16, need to read and write English, be of sound physical and mental state and pass the initial aeronautical knowledge test.  Interestingly, fully certificated pilots can take an abbreviated online training course to receive their commercial drone license.

This marks the beginning of what will surely be a rapidly evolving industry.  There is pressure from a variety of interests to push the bounds of regulations to meet, and exceed, the existing capabilities of drones.  Companies such as Amazon and Google have already made major investments in drone package delivery.  Obvious applications such as border patrol, power line inspections and forest fire detection are natural fits for drones but hampered by the today’s regulations

Amazon UAV

“We wanted to make sure we’re striking the right balance between innovation and safety,” said Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx, who called the rule a “major milestone.”

The Air Line Pilots Association released a lukewarm statement in support of the revised regulations stating, “We will continue to work with the FAA and stakeholders to further advance the safe integration of sUAS for both commercial operators and hobbyists. ALPA remains steadfast in its commitment to advancing the unparalleled safety record of U.S. aviation.”  Read full press release from APLA here.