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US to Allow Flights for Small, Commercial Drones

FILE - A Flirtey drones delivers medical supplies in Wise County, Virginia, in the first FAA-approved drone delivery in the U.S. (Flirtey)

The U.S. set new rules Tuesday to permit small, commercial drone flights across the country, but stopped short of allowing large-scale drone delivery of consumer products from distant warehouses.

The regulations, announced in Washington, will let business interests fly the drones to monitor farmlands, check on rescue operations when natural disasters occur, look at wildlife nesting, provide educational and research opportunities and many other usages.

But the drones must weigh less than 25 kilograms, be flown no higher than 122 meters or faster than 161 kilometers an hour. In addition, the flights must be carried out within eyesight of the operator and not over people.

"As this new technology continues to grow and develop, we want to make sure we strike the right balance between innovation and safety," Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx said.

Two major U.S. companies, tech giant Apple and search engine Google, said two years ago they are working on drone deliveries for products they are selling to customers through their internet sites, starting sometime in 2017.

The U.S. is working on separate drone flight rules to regulate such long-distance deliveries, although there is no timetable for when they may be announced.