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Congress poised to make it much easier for companies to fly small drones

Congress poised to make it much easier for companies to fly small drones


Fewer requirements, but a human being still has to be in the loop

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A bill is currently working its way through the committee process toward Congress that will reauthorize (or not) the Federal Aviation Administration. The current legislation has some radical ideas about privatizing Air Traffic Control in the US, but it also includes a big section about unmanned aerial vehicles, aka drones.

Today Congressman Rodney Davis of Illinois introduced an amendment to the bill that would create a separate class of drones know as "micro-UAS," units weighing less than 4.4 pounds. Right now a company that wants to fly a drone in the US needs to get a special exemption and certificate from the FAA. The person operating the commercial drone must also be a licensed pilot. The amendment would exempt commercial micro-drones from all these requirements.

For reference, the new DJI Phantom, which is the most popular model of drone submitted to the FAA for exemption, weighs just 2.8 pounds. That unit is capable of capturing 4K footage at a range of over 1 mile, so it will likely be more than capable for most jobs. By comparison the DJI Inspire 1, which is a more powerful machine with a few extra features, weighs 6.6 pounds, and so it would not qualify for micro-drone status.

It’s important to note that while micro-drones would be exempt from most of the requirements specific to commercial drone use, it would still have to follow the basic rules that apply to all drones in the US: no flights over 400 feet, no flights at night, no flights within 5 miles of an airport, and no flights beyond the pilot’s line of sight. It would make life simpler for the average wedding photographer or real estate agent, in other words, but doesn’t really change the regulatory landscape in a way that would allow for the drone delivery fleets Google and Amazon are eager to build.