US To Permit Drone Operations Over Homes, Plus Night Flights

The United States has granted approval for a significant advancement of the scope of commercial drone operations in that country.

The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) announced on Monday that small drones will soon be allowed to fly over people. Furthermore, drones will be allowed to operate at night as well.

The move could pave the way for other countries to follow its lead. The UK for example now requires most bigger drones (with cameras) to be registered and flown within line of sight only (typically 500 metres), and not above an altitude of 120 metres. Drones in the UK are also not supposed to flown closer than 50 metres to people or properties.

New rules

But the United States is not as densely populated as the United Kingdom, and now the FAA has also confirmed it is pressing ahead with “Remote Identification (Remote ID) of drones” and will “allow operators of small drones to fly over people and at night under certain conditions.”

That ‘digital licence plate’ for drones drew a mixed response, and in March this year critics warned that those regulations would be expensive and complex to implement.

DJI, the world’s biggest drone manufacturer, said at the time the Remote ID proposals were “deeply flawed” and would be “complex, expensive, and intrusive” for drone users.

The Pilot Institute, an Arizona-based company that trains commercial plane and drone pilots, also said at the time the rules would “dramatically change” how and where people can fly their drones, eliminating many existing drones, increasing the cost of owning and operating the devices and harming privacy.

It should be noted that in the UK, drone registration also proved equally controversial.

From 29 November 2019 it became mandatory for UK drone pilots (including children) to register any drone or model aircraft weighing between 250g (9oz) and 20kg (44lbs). Registered drone owners also have to be over 18 years old.

UK critics argue that any drone registration scheme does nothing to clamp down on existing criminals or rogue drone operators.

For example, prison drug smugglers that fly their drones into prisons are already breaking the law, and therefore it is highly unlikely that they, or indeed other illegal drone users, will suddenly opt to register their drones with regulatory bodies.

Remote ID

But over in the US, the FAA says that Remote ID will help “mitigate risks associated with expanded drone operations, such as flights over people and at night, and both rules support technological and operational innovation and advancements.”

Remote ID is therefore required for all drones weighing 0.25 kg or more, but is also required for smaller drones under certain circumstances such as flights over open-air assemblies.

“These final rules carefully address safety, security and privacy concerns while advancing opportunities for innovation and utilisation of drone technology,” said US Secretary of Transportation Elaine L. Chao.

The Remote ID the FAA says will be crucial step toward the full integration of drones into the national airspace system.

It will also provide identification of drones in flight as well as the location of their control stations, “providing crucial information to our national security agencies and law enforcement partners, and other officials charged with ensuring public safety.”

Drones flying at night must also be equipped with anti-collision lights.

Airspace integration

“Equipping drones with Remote ID technology builds on previous steps taken by the FAA and the drone industry to integrate operations safely into the national airspace system,” it added.

“Part 107 of the federal aviation regulations currently prohibits covered drone operations over people and at night unless the operator obtains a waiver from the FAA,” the aviation regulator added. “The new FAA regulations jointly provide increased flexibility to conduct certain small UAS without obtaining waiver.”

“The new rules make way for the further integration of drones into our airspace by addressing safety and security concerns,” said FAA Administrator Steve Dickson. “They get us closer to the day when we will more routinely see drone operations such as the delivery of packages.”

So essentially it seems that all operators of drones will require FAA registration.

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.

Time frame wise, the rules will take effect 60 days after publication in the federal register in January.

Drone manufacturers will have 18 months to begin producing drones with Remote ID, and operators will have an additional year to provide Remote ID.

Drone operations

Last month Amazon, a long time champion of the use of drones, reportedly laid off dozens of R&D and manufacturing staff working on its delivery drone service Amazon Prime Air.

That came after the Federal Aviation Administration in late August had granted Amazon an important certificate for its drone delivery ambitions.

The FAA granted Amazon what is called a Part 135 air carrier certificate, which must be held before a company begins drone deliveries.

In April 2019, Google (Wing Aviation) gained the FAA’s air carrier certification to begin home deliveries.

UPS has also gained the certification in October 2019.

Tom Jowitt

Tom Jowitt is a leading British tech freelancer and long standing contributor to Silicon UK. He is also a bit of a Lord of the Rings nut...

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