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Congress says FAA must let drones fly in domestic airspace

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Both houses of Congress have passed a bill that will require the Federal Aviation Administration to allow unmanned drones to fly in the airspace currently reserved for manned planes.

Gatewing X100 Aerial Drone
Gatewing X100 Aerial Drone

According to a bill passed by Congress on Monday, the US Federal Aviation Administration will have until the end of 2015 to open national airspace to unmanned civil and commercial craft. The bill, which granted funding to the FAA, requires the agency to draft a plan for licensing remote-piloted drones to operate in areas that were previously reserved for manned planes. Currently, drones can be used in certain parts of military airspace and at low altitudes or isolated areas; this bill will let them occupy the same space as passenger planes and other traditional aircraft.

We'll start learning more about how drones will be used as the FAA releases its guidelines for pilot licensing, safety, and other requirements for the planes to fly without disrupting current aviation practice. Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-TX) has said that drones would be used to perform surveillance and photographic tasks that are currently done with manned planes. Groups like the ACLU, however, maintain that opening the door to drones without putting privacy safeguards in place could let companies, individuals, or government agencies ramp up surveillance due to the small size and relatively low cost of drones. President Obama is expected to sign the bill into law, so you could be seeing unmanned aircraft above you in just a few years.