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U.S. Announces New 'Ground Rules' For Use Of Commercial Drones

A Geopost drone flying in southeastern France during a presentation of a prototype package delivery drone.
AFP/Getty Images
A Geopost drone flying in southeastern France during a presentation of a prototype package delivery drone.

The Federal Aviation Administration issued the first operational rules to govern the commercial use of drones on Tuesday.

Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx said this was a "huge step for innovation."

The 600-plus pages of new regulations require drone operators to pass a written exam every two years, keep the unmanned aircraft within sight and avoid flying it over people and at night. The rules also require drones to stay at least 5 miles from airports.

The regulations, however, can be waived if operators show they can mitigate the risks associated with operating at night, flying over people, or operating beyond line of sight, among other things.

"We want to make sure we're striking the right balance between innovation and safety, that we're protecting manned aircraft and folks on the ground from harm," Foxx said during a conference call with reporters.

Federal Aviation Administration Administrator Michael Huerta said the intent is to make the waiver process "streamlined."

"We do not envision this to be a very burdensome process," Huerta said.

The new regulations acknowledge the privacy concerns raised by drones but do not address them in any significant way.

"The FAA intends to continue addressing privacy concerns through engagement and collaboration with the public, stakeholders and other agencies with authority and subject matter expertise in privacy law and policy," the published rules read.

Huerta was asked if he knew when drone deliveries would be a possibility. He said the agency is working with the private sector to research that, but he could not put a date on it.

The FAA already requires owners to register their aircraft. As NPR's Alina Selyukh has reported, "all operators of small drones — devices weighing between 0.55 pounds and 55 pounds — need to go online and register their names and addresses with the Federal Aviation Administration. The government would issue a registration number that would need to be displayed on that person's entire fleet of drones."

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Eyder Peralta is NPR's East Africa correspondent based in Nairobi, Kenya.