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FAA sets weight, speed and altitude limits for commercial drones in proposed regulations

The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has released its proposed regulations for the commercial use of drones. Included in the proposal are a 55-pound limit for unmanned aircraft systems (UAS), a daylight-only operation restriction and a required UAS operator certificate.

The FAA’s proposal, released Sunday, lays out a list of ground rules for the non-recreational use of UAS. The first operational limitation listed in the summary document is that UAS must weigh less than 55 pounds. Also included is a requirement that the UAS operator or visual observer maintain visual line-of-sight with the aircraft without the use of visual-enhancement devices (other than corrective lenses) at all times.

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Other items in the proposed framework of regulations include lines forbidding UAS from flying over people not involved in the operation, restricting UAS operation to daylight hours, limiting airspeed to 100 miles per hour and limiting altitude to 500 feet above ground level. There’s also this far-reaching limitation: “No careless or reckless operations.”

As part of the proposal, operators of drones would be required to pass an initial aeronautical knowledge test at an FAA-approved testing center, be vetted by the Transportation Security Administration, obtain a special certificate, pass periodic tests every 24 months and be at least 17 years old.

“The proposed rule also includes extensive discussion of the possibility of an additional, more flexible framework for ‘micro’ UAS under 4.4 pounds,” according to the FAA’s press release about the proposed rules. The agency notes that these proposed rules for UAS would not apply to model aircraft, though there are separate regulations for those.

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There will be a 60-day window for the public to comment on the proposed regulation. The FAA is supposed to have regulations for drones in place by September 2015, though the agency is not expected to meet that deadline. It may take more than a year before final rules are in place, which won’t sit well with impatient companies like Amazon.

A March 2013 report from the Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International estimated that the first three years of integrating drones into the National Airspace System would create more than 70,000 new jobs and more than $13.6 billion in economic impact.