At the AUVSI expo in New Orleans this morning, Michael Huerta, head of the Federal Aviation Administration, announced that the agency was going to move aggressively to cut back on restrictive regulations around who can fly commercial drones. And to add some flavor to the news, the FAA partnered with Intel to show off a beautiful light show created by the first FAA-approved drone swarm.
In the very near future, students and universities will be able to fly for research or education without a 333 exemption — meaning they won't need a pilot's license and won't spend up to six months waiting for permission before getting into the air. And Huerta said the FAA is planning to extend that looser set of rules to the general population by late spring of this year.
The official name for the new regulatory regime is Part 107, and a recent report from an FAA task force laid out the differences that will likely be part of the final rules. Instead of two pilots, one to fly and one to spot, operators would be allowed to fly a commercial drone solo. The height limit may be bumped from 400 to 500 feet, and drones would no longer have to maintain a 500-foot buffer between the aircraft and any property. Instead of needing a full pilot's license, operators would have to pass an aeronautical knowledge test every 24 months.
Right now, the rules indicate that each drone will require its own operator, but the FAA also revealed that it gave the first permission for a large drone swarm to Intel. The chip maker had a single pilot control 100 drones as they danced over the desert in Palm Springs. Intel CEO Brian Krzanich will also take the lead as head of a newly formed Drone Advisory Council, an industry group that will work with the FAA to shape policy making decisions around drone flight in the US. The goal, said Intel, is to do this kind of drone light show over stadiums and large populations. "We have vision of going from 100 to 1,000 over time," said Krzanich. "I think that's really what I see in the future."