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FAA Streamlines Approval for Some Commercial Drone Use

  • Reuters

A drone hovers over the scene of an explosion that leveled two apartment buildings in the East Harlem neighborhood of New York, New York, March 12, 2014.

A drone hovers over the scene of an explosion that leveled two apartment buildings in the East Harlem neighborhood of New York, New York, March 12, 2014.

U.S. aviation regulators on Tuesday unveiled a new policy to speed up approval for the use of commercial drones in the United States under certain conditions.

The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), in a move first reported by Reuters last week, said it would award “blanket” certification allowing companies exempt from a U.S. ban on commercial drones to begin using the aircraft at altitudes of up to 200 feet (61 meters) during daylight hours and within the operator's visual line of sight.

Up to now, companies exempt from the ban have had to seek certification for new drone use, a process that could take up to 60 days for each project.

“The agency expects the new policy will allow companies and individuals who want to use UAS [unmanned aerial systems] within these limitations to start flying much more quickly than before,” the FAA said in a release.

The change could be a boost for companies that already have exemptions from the commercial drone ban, such as Chevron , Berkshire Hathaway's BNSF Railway and State Farm Mutual Automobile Insurance.

An FAA official told Reuters it would eventually benefit companies still seeking aircraft approval including Yamaha Motor Company, AeroVironment and General Atomics.

“We're going to give blanket approval,” the official said. “Instead of doing it on a location-by-location basis, which requires an analysis, we did an analysis for the entire country.”

But lobbyists welcomed the change but said the FAA process for exempting companies from the commercial drone ban remains too slow, with only 48 exemptions granted out of several hundred exemption requests.

The new policy allows flights anywhere in the country except restricted airspace and other areas such as major cities and airports, where the FAA prohibits UAS operations.

In February, the FAA proposed rules that would lift the current ban on most commercial drone use. But industry representatives say it could be years before the ban is lifted, leaving businesses to follow the cumbersome exemption process for now.

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