US allows small drones to fly over people and at night

Small drones are allowed to fly over people and at night in the United States, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) said Monday, a significant step towards their use for widespread commercial deliveries.

The FAA said its long-awaited rules for the drones, also known as unmanned aerial vehicles, will address safety concerns by, in most cases, requiring remote identification technology to enable them to be identified from the ground.

So far, small drone operations on people have been limited to operations on people who directly participated in the operation, were under a covered structure or in a stationary vehicle – unless the operators had received a waiver from the FAA.

The rules will take effect 60 days after publication in the federal register in January. Drone manufacturers have 18 months to start producing drones with Remote ID and operators have an additional year to deploy Remote ID.

There are other, more complicated rules that in some cases allow operations at night and over people for larger drones.

“The new rules make way for the further integration of drones into our airspace by addressing safety concerns,” said FAA Administrator Steve Dickson. “They’re bringing us closer to the day when drone operations like parcel delivery are becoming more routine.”

Companies have tried to develop fleets of drones to expedite deliveries. The United States has over 1.7 million drone registrations and 203,000 FAA certified remote pilots.

According to the FAA, drones must be equipped with anti-collision lights for night operation. The final rules allow operation over moving vehicles under certain circumstances.

Remote ID is required for all drones weighing 0.25kg or more, but is required in certain circumstances for smaller drones, e.g. B. for flights over open-air assemblies.

The new rules remove the requirement that drones must be connected to the internet in order to transmit location data. However, they send remote ID messages over the air. Without the change, the use of drones in areas without internet access could have been banned.

The Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International said Remote ID will act as a “digital license plate for drones … that will enable more complex operations,” while night and over-human operations “are important steps in integrating drones into our national airspace.”

A change since the rules were first proposed in 2019 requires that small drones not have exposed rotating parts that would injure human skin.

United Parcel Service Inc announced in October 2019 that it had received the first full government approval to operate a drone airline.

Last year, Alphabet’s Wing, a sister unit of the search engine Google, was the first company to receive certification from a US aviation company to operate a drone with a pilot.

In August, Amazon’s drone service received federal approval that allowed the retailer to test commercial deliveries through its fleet of drones.

Walmart said in September it would be running a pilot project for the delivery of food and household products via automated drones, but acknowledged that “it will take time for millions of packages to be delivered via drone”.

© Thomson Reuters 2020

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