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The U.S. Department of Transportation’s Federal Aviation Administration on Monday finalized new regulations that could potentially expedite the widespread commercial use of drones, allowing operators to fly small unmanned aerial vehicles over people and at night under certain conditions.
“The new rules make way for the further integration of drones into our airspace by addressing safety and security concerns,” FAA Administrator Steve Dickson said. “They get us closer to the day when we will more routinely see drone operations such as the delivery of packages.”
Previous restrictions did not permit drones to operate at night or over people without a waiver.
For drones to operate over people when the new rules take effect, they must “contain no exposed rotating parts that would lacerate human skin,” according to the new policies.
Remote pilots conducting operations at night must fly uncrewed aircraft “with anti-collision lights that can be seen for 3 statute miles and have a flash rate sufficient to avoid a collision,” the FAA said.
.@USDOT’s FAA has issued final rules that will require Remote ID of drones, and can enable operations of small drones over people and at night. These rules will accelerate the safe integration of drones into our nation’s airspace. Learn more at https://t.co/NSZQW5iv8u. #RemoteID pic.twitter.com/Ay7hNGc6rq
— The FAA ✈️ (@FAANews) December 28, 2020
To mitigate risks posed by expanded operations, the agency will require the remote identification (Remote ID) of most unmanned aircraft using U.S. airspace to ensure public safety. The FAA said Remote ID could be described as a “digital license plate,” calling the technology “a major step toward the full integration of drones into the national airspace system.” The technology will use radio frequencies to broadcast a drone’s ID, location, and control station. National security experts and law enforcement pushed the policy. According to CNN, “drone operators must also have their remote pilot certificates on their persons and ready to be displayed if challenged by the authorities.”
“These final rules carefully address safety, security and privacy concerns while advancing opportunities for innovation and utilization of drone technology,” said U.S. Secretary of Transportation Elaine L. Chao.
“These final rules carefully address safety, security and privacy concerns while advancing opportunities for innovation and utilization of drone technology,” – @USDOT Secretary of Transportation Elaine L. Chao. Learn more at https://t.co/NSZQW5iv8u. #RemoteID pic.twitter.com/l38m7JMb4z
— The FAA ✈️ (@FAANews) December 28, 2020
A press release from the FAA says, “these new rules come at a time when drones represent the fastest-growing segment in the entire transportation sector – with currently over 1.7 million drone registrations and 203,000 FAA-certificated remote pilots.”
Some proponents of drone-based commerce have expressed frustration with the pace of the government’s development of regulations.
As The Associated Press reports:
…the widespread commercial use of the machines has developed far more slowly than many advocates expected. Amazon.com founder Jeff Bezos once predicted that his company would use drones to deliver goods to customers’ doorsteps within five years, but that prediction is already off by two years.
There have been several tests and limited uses. United Parcel Service said last year that it received approval to operate a nationwide fleet of drones and has already made hundreds of deliveries on a hospital campus in North Carolina.
Also last year, Google sister company Wing Aviation won FAA approval for commercial drone flights in a corner of Virginia.
And this past August, Amazon got similar FAA approval to deliver packages by drones. The company is still testing the service and hasn’t said when shoppers will see deliveries.
According to the FAA, the new rules will be effective 60 days after publication in the Federal Register, which the agency expects to happen in January. Drone makers will have 18 months to start manufacturing machines with Remote ID, while operators will have an additional year to begin using drones equipped with the technology.