The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) said that final rules announced in December took effect on Wednesday allowing for small drones to fly over people and at night, a significant step toward their eventual use for widespread commercial deliveries.
The effective date was delayed about a month during the change in administration. The FAA said its long-awaited rules for the drones, also known as unmanned aerial vehicles, will address security concerns by requiring remote identification technology in most cases to enable their identification from the ground.
Previously, small drone operations over people were limited to operations over people who were directly participating in the operation, located under a covered structure, or inside a stationary vehicle - unless operators had obtained a waiver from the FAA.
U.S. Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg said Wednesday the rules "are an important first step in safely and securely managing the growing use of drones in our airspace, though more work remains on the journey to full integration" of drones.
Drone manufacturers have 18 months to begin producing drones with Remote ID, and operators will have an additional year to provide Remote ID.
Companies have been racing to create drone fleets to speed deliveries. As of December, the United States had over 1.7 million drone registrations and 203,000 FAA-certificated remote pilots.
For at-night operations, the FAA said drones must be equipped with anti-collision lights. The final rules allow operations over moving vehicles in some circumstances.
The new rules eliminate requirements that drones be connected to the internet to transmit location data but do require that they broadcast remote ID messages via radio frequency broadcast.
One change, since the rules were first proposed in 2019, requires that small drones not have any exposed rotating parts that would lacerate human skin.