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FAA considers letting drones fly over crowds

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It also wants to allow them to be flown at night by trained pilots

2019 Consumer Electronics Show Highlights New Products And Technology Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

The Federal Aviation Administration is considering loosening its restrictions and allowing drones to be flown over crowds. The proposals, which were first unveiled on Monday, introduce three categories for drones, with varying restrictions on how they could be flown over people. In addition, flying drones at night, which is currently only allowed with explicit permission from the FAA, would be allowed if the drone is equipped with anti-collision lighting and if the pilot completes special training.

The proposals categorize drones into one of three groups, depending on their weight and the amount of damage they could do to a person. The first category of drones are defined as weighing less than 0.55 pounds. Drones in this category would be allowed to fly over people with no restrictions beyond the FAA’s existing rules — such as maintaining a line of sight or not flying over 400 feet in the air.

Rather than being grouped based on weight, categories two and three are defined based on how much damage they could do to a person, with category three doing the most harm. Both categories two and three require a drone’s rotary blades to be shielded, but drones in category three aren’t allowed to hover over individuals (they can only fly by), aren’t allowed to be flown over open assemblies of people, and pilots have to notify people if drones will be flying over a restricted access site.

The new proposals come just weeks after the UK’s second largest airport was shut down for a day after drones were repeatedly sighted around the airfield. However, the UK’s regulations around drone use are much less stringent than in the US. Although basic rules exist, such as not allowing drones to fly within 1 kilometer of airports and for pilots to maintain a line of sight, owners in the UK won’t be required to register with the country’s aviation authority until November 30th, 2019, as US pilots currently are.

The FAA is currently seeking input from the public and industry about the new rules, which are unlikely to come into effect until at least 2020. In particular, it’s currently examining the best ways to make drones more identifiable. Bloomberg reports that it’s hoped that relaxing the regulations will open drones up to new use cases, such as delivering medical supplies to highway crash scenes or surveying construction sites, which is currently impossible without a waiver from the FAA.