A host of potential commercial drone services are currently being halted by legislation in the US, but things are beginning to change. The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has now been handed a report by the Aviation Rulemaking Committee, made up of industry leaders and agency officials, recommending that the FAA ease restrictions on the use of commercial drones.
More specifically, the report focused on the use of drones around and above people - an issue which is at the center of any wider business applications for unmanned aerial vehicles. The Federal Aviation Administration currently prohibits most commercial drone flights over populated areas, especially where there are crowds. This blanket ban frustrates a host of industries that want to take advantage of drone technology, from TV stations to potential package delivery services.
The recommendations from the committee suggest that four categories of commercial drones should be created, with each category having different limitations with regards to flying over populated areas or crowds. The categories are as follows:
The first category of drones would weigh no more than around half a pound. These are essentially micro-drones, and under the suggestions put forward could fly unrestricted over people and crowds, providing that drone manufacturers prove that the chance of a serious injury in the event of a crash is extremely low.
For the three other categories, all drones would have to fly at least 20ft over the heads of people and remain laterally at least 10ft away.
According to the recommendations:
- Drones in the second category are expected to be mostly small quadcopters used for photography and inspection purposes, weighing between 4lbs and 5lbs. Again, drone makers would have to show through testing that the chance of a serious injury to nearby people was incredibly remote.
- Drones in the third category would be forbidden from flying over people. These drones would be used for work in closed or restricted sites where the people that the drones fly over have permission from the drone operator to be present. Those people would be incidental to the drone operations and flights over them would be brief, rather than sustained. Manufacturers would have to show there was a 30% chance or less that a person would be seriously injured if struck by the drone at the maximum strength impact possible.
- Drones in the fourth category could fly over crowds indefinitely, But the operator would need to work with the FAA and community involved to develop a “congested area plan” showing how flight risks would be mitigated. Once more, the risk of serious injury would have to be 30% or less. Safety tests would be more exacting and the FAA would set a limit on how strong the drone’s maximum impact could be.
A reasonable approach
All in all it appears that the FAA will take a more mathematical, statistics-led approach to any new regulations. This will come as a welcome change to the often exaggerated dangers and risks associated with drone flights.