The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has finally announced its proposed rules governing the commercial use of drones.  The proposed rules, which have been long-awaited by members of the emerging multi-billion dollar unmanned aerial vehicle industry, pave the way for the commercial use of drones in the United States.  The proposed rules, released on February 15, 2015, are applicable to all commercial drones under 55 pounds.  The rules would require such drones to operate only in daylight hours below a 500 foot altitude ceiling and under a 100 mph airspeed limit.

The proposed rule would also prohibit the operation of commercial drones in the vicinity of other aircraft or known flight paths and, significantly, would prohibit the operation of drones above any people not involved in the operation of the drone.  One restriction in particular is likely to receive significant attention during the upcoming comment section for the proposed rule.  That proposal requires that drones only be operated within the unaided visual-line-of-site of their operators. Such a limitation, combined with a proposed prohibition of dropping any objects from a drone, is certain to impact various publicized plans for commercial drone delivery services.

The FAA “tried to be flexible in writing these rules . . .”

The FAA appears to recognize the fast pace of technological growth in this area, however, and has emphasized that these rules are intended to be “flexible” and are not yet final.  The FAA is therefore asking for comments on whether their final rule should permit operations beyond visual-line-of-site and has also indicated that it is considering less-restrictive regulations applicable to so-called “micro” drones weighing less than 4.4 pounds.

“We have tried to be flexible in writing these rules,” said FAA Administrator Michael Huerta.  “We want to maintain today’s outstanding level of aviation safety without placing an undue regulatory burden on an emerging industry.”  Until the comment section is complete and a final rule is adopted, the widespread commercial use of drones remains restricted.  The proposed rules do not affect the rules applicable to the recreational use of drones, which have already been addressed by the FAA.

Interested parties, including industries involved in the manufacture and use of drone technology, are sure to follow the coming months closely.