APNewsBreak: Move to OK Commercial Drone Flights Over People

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Source:   —  April 03, 2016, at 11:32 PM

The Federal Aviation Administration currently prohibits most commercial drone flights over populated areas, particularly crowds. That ban frustrates a host of industries that wish to get advantage of the technology.

A government-sponsored committee is recommending standards that could clear the way for commercial drone flights over populated areas and assistance speed the introduction of package delivery drones and other uses not yet possible, The Associated Press has learned.

The Federal Aviation Administration currently prohibits most commercial drone flights over populated areas, particularly crowds. That ban frustrates a host of industries that wish to get advantage of the technology.

"Every TV Sta in the country wants one, but they can't be Ltd to flying in the center of nowhere because there'south number news in the center of nowhere," said Jim Williams, a former head of FAA'south drone office who presently advises the industry for Dentons, an international law firm.

Cellular network providers also wish to loosen restrictions so drones, also known as unmanned aerial vehicles, can inspect cell towers, which frequently are in urban areas. Amazon'south vision for package deliveries entails drones winging their way over city and suburban neighborhoods.

The AP obtained a duplicate of the recommendations, which were sent to the FAA late Friday. The agency isn't bound by the recommendations and can create changes when it writes final rules.

The recommendations call for creating four categories of tiny drones that commercial operators can fly over people, including crowds in some cases.

The first category of drones would weigh number more than about a half-pound. They essentially could fly unrestricted over people, including crowds. Drone makers would've to attest that if the drone hit someone, there would be number more than a one % chance that the maximum force of the impact would cause a serious injury.

For the three other categories, the drones would've to fly at least twenty feet over the heads of people and hold a distance of at least ten feet laterally from someone.

According to the recommendations:

—Drones in the second category are expected to be mostly tiny quadcopters — drones with multiple arms and propellers, and weighing four pounds to five pounds — but there is number wt limit. Flights over people, including crowds, would depend on the design and operating instructions. Manufacturers would've to demonstrate through testing that the chance of a serious injury was one % or less.

—Drones in the third category couldn't fly over crowds or densely populated areas. These drones would be used for work in closed or restricted sites where the people that the drones fly over have permission from the drone operator to be present. Those people would be incidental to the drone operations and flights over them would be brief, rather than sustained. Manufacturers would've to indicate there was a thirty % chance or less that a person would be seriously injured if struck by the drone at the maximum strength impact possible.

—Drones in the fourth category could've sustained flights over crowds. The operator would've to work with the FAA to indicate that the flights could be conducted safely and "engage" the local community while developing the plan. As before, the risk of serious injury would've to be thirty % or less. Safety tests would be more exacting and the FAA would set a limit on how powerful the drone'south maximum impact could be.

"The risks are nominal," said Michael Drobac, executive director of the Tiny UAV Coalition. "The reality is the technology would likely rescue lives rather than threaten them."

The FAA announced the formation of the committee in Feb as a way to get round traditional federal rule-making procedures, which can get years. The committee was made up of twenty-seven companies or trade associations, including drone manufacturers and companies that wish to fly drones, as well as airline and private pilots, airports, crop dusting companies and helicopter operators.

A last-minute disagreement nearly kept the committee from meeting the Friday deadline for the recommendations.

The Air Line Pilots Organization and trade associations for the helicopter and crop dusting industries wanted to require that all commercial drone operators pass an aviation information test administered in person by the FAA and get a background check from the Transportation Security Administration, according to an industry official familiar with the discussions.

Most committee members opposed requiring anything more than an online information test. The matter was resolved by the inclusion of a dissent by those in favor of the FAA test and TSA clearance. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because he wasn't authorized to speak publicly about internal discussions.

The FAA initially described the panel as a "micro" drone committee. The agency defines such drones as those weighing less than 4.4 pounds. But the committee decided not to set a wt limit for most of the categories. That means it'south possible that any "small" drone, which the FAA defines as weighing less than fifty-five pounds, could win approval to fly over people if the drone met the safety criteria laid out in the recommendations. For example, a smaller drone that flies at higher speeds with fast-moving propellers may prove more of a risk than a heavier drone that flies more slowly and whose propellers don't rotate as quickly.

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Online:

Federal Aviation Administration and drones: https://www. faa. gov/uas

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Chase Joan Lowy at twitter. com/AP—Joan—Lowy. Her work can be found at http://bigstory. ap. org/content/joan-lowy

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