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Ready for takeoff – almost: FAA proposes rules for drones

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The federal government has finally issued long-awaited rules on how it wants to regulate drones – the small unmanned aircraft whose use has increased dramatically in the past few years.

Until now, drone operators had very little guidance from the Federal Aviation Administration over how they could legally use the remote-controlled craft.

Drones have been put to use for many purposes including surveying farms and oil fields, inspecting bridges and towers, and monitoring by law enforcement agencies.

The FAA released its draft rules Monday, with an eye toward balancing flight safety with the fast-growing industry.

Here's a summary of the rules:

  • Unmanned aircraft must weigh less than 55 lbs.
  • Flights must occur within the operator's line of sight.
  • Flights cannot exceed 500 feet in altitude or 100 mph in speed.
  • Flights are only allowed during daylight hours.
  • Operator must be older than 17 and pass an aeronautical knowledge test.
  • Aircraft cannot be flown over people not involved in the flight.

"We want to maintain today’s outstanding level of aviation safety without placing an undue regulatory burden on an emerging industry," said FAA Administrator Michael Huerta in a news release.

The announcement was closely watched in North Dakota, which has become a center of research and business activity surrounding drones, according to the Grand Forks Herald.

The rules don't address allowing drones for commercial purposes such as delivering packages – something that Amazon would like to do – or beer, for that matter.

You may remember that about a year ago, a Minnesota man got in trouble with the FAA for experimenting with a drone-based beer delivery system for ice anglers on Lake Waconia.

The agency is concerned about drones potentially hitting other aircraft if they fly out of the operator's line of sight.

It's also worried about instances where the operator loses control over the drone and it flies away or collides with something, according to the Associated Press.

Just last month, an out-of-control drone crashed on the White House lawn, illustrating the risk.

The FAA will accept public comments on the proposed rules for the next 60 days and will then work on the final version. It'll probably be at least another year before the rules are put in place.

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