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US watchdog lobs balls of red tape at spy-in-the-sky drones
100 mph speed limit and line-of-sight only
The US Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) and Department of Transportation (DOT) have laid out a new set of rules to guide businesses that use small drones for imaging.
The Part 107 Rule [PDF] sets out the guidelines for commercial flight of drones weighing less than 55lbs for activities such as shooting photos of an architectural project or video recording. Operation beyond the specifications in the rule will still require obtaining a Section 333 exemption from the FAA.
Personal drones that are not being used for business activity are already covered by separate rules.
Among the regulations for flight is a requirement that flights are only conducted during daytime hours and the craft must always stay within the line of sight of the person controlling the craft. That line of sight cannot be aided by visual instruments such as binoculars or telescopes (eyeglasses are OK).
Additionally, the drones may only fly outdoors (not inside a covered structure or a vehicle) and are not allowed to fly over any individual who is not aware of the flight and recording.
The drones are not allowed to fly higher than 400 feet from the ground, though when filming a structure that limit is raised to 400 feet above the top of the structure. Maximum airspeed will be capped at 100mph (161kph). Airspace restrictions for designated areas (such as airports) still apply.
"We are part of a new era in aviation, and the potential for unmanned aircraft will make it safer and easier to do certain jobs, gather information, and deploy disaster relief," US Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx said of the rule.
"We look forward to working with the aviation community to support innovation, while maintaining our standards as the safest and most complex airspace in the world."
Not everyone is so high on the Part 107 Rule. Lobbying group Information Technology and Innovation Foundation (ITIF) complains that the rules are too restrictive and would "limit innovation" in drone use.
"The final order imposes different rules on commercial operations than hobbyists using the same technology, despite the fact that the level of risk is independent of whether the UAS [unmanned aircraft system] operator receives compensation," ITIF said.
"A hobbyist taking a picture with a UAS presents no more of a risk than a professional photographer doing the same." ®