The U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) and FAA are scaring me this week with a package of – dare I say it – sensible drone regulations and rules for operating at night and flying over people. Someone needs to run by the building in Washington and check on them. Practical proposals? Out of Washington? Yeah, the zombies are coming folks.
Jokes aside, the FAA Reauthorization Act is not the doom and gloom picture painted by some. Instead, it turns out drone regulations can foster innovation and safety. You wouldn’t know that in the current political climate. Then there’s the money aspect. Companies stand to make billions when drone deliveries become mainstream.
Currently, night operations and flying over people are only legal with a special waiver or exemption. For example, the FAA has issued 1,233 waivers for night operations, and not a single accident or incident has been reported. It’s safe so long as you don’t have bored people around Gatwick looking up into the sky.
Under the new guidelines, nighttime operations and flights over people would automatically become legal for pilots with the proper training and equipment. It divides drones into three categories based on risks to the public:
Drones that weigh just over half a pound or 250 grams pose so little risk to the public that drone pilots would be allowed to fly them over people without any restrictions.
Drones that weigh more than half a pound or 250 grams would need to be designed in a way so that they do not cause significant injuries to people if they are accidentally struck. The FAA suggests that manufacturers could achieve this in a number of ways. For instance, making the drones lighter or adding padding. The propeller blades would also need to be shielded to prevent injury to people.
Drones that are capable of causing greater injury could only fly over people in limited circumstances that prohibit flights over open-air crowds and hovering over individuals.
Night operations could be achieved easily with a similar setup as the DJI Mavic 2 Enterprise. The running light is visible for three miles, allowing for easy identification.
According to the FAA, the rules are designed to be technology neutral to keep the drone industry growing and fostering innovation.
“The FAA’s challenge in developing this proposal, therefore, is to balance the need to mitigate the risk small unmanned aircraft pose to other aircraft and to people and property on the ground without inhibiting innovation.”
“Drones prove every day that they belong in the sky doing important work for America, and everyone benefits when it is easier for professionals to safely fly over people and at night,” said Brendan Schulman, DJI Vice President of Policy & Legal Affairs. “Drones have helped rescue more than 200 people from peril around the world, and drones help professionals do their work faster, safer, more efficiently and at a lower cost. Removing the barriers to routine night operations and flight over people will mean more benefits for more people.”
The proposed rules are part of a 198-page document which borrow heavily from the 2016 FAA Aviation Rulemaking Committee DJI took part in. The company is still sifting through the document, but so far it’s earning a thumbs up from the consumer drone giant.
“We are pleased that the Department of Transportation recognizes the importance of allowing drones to do productive work over people and that they encourage manufacturers to develop creative ways to meet safety standards,” Schulman said. “We will review these proposed rules to evaluate how well they can be implemented in practice, and we intend to submit comments to help inform and support the department’s work of ensuring that drones continue to reach their full beneficial potential.”
What’s next? Like all proposed rules, the FAA has submitted them for public comment. Think the net neutrality public commenting period but with less Russian bot accounts. The agency wants to hear from not only companies but the general public. How about a waiver system for national parks?
Before you head out tonight with your camera drone, the new rules are not in place and aren’t expected to be until 2020. Current drone regulations remain in effect, so let’s all avoid a fine.