The government on Sunday released its proposal to regulate a new era in which small, commercial drones zipping through U.S. skies are a part of everyday life.
Under its long-awaited draft rules, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) said people flying drones for commercial purposes would need to obtain a special pilot certificate, stay away from bystanders and fly only during the daytime.
The rules would also limit speed to 100 miles per hour and the altitude of flight to 500 feet above ground level.
Industry experts said the rules appeared to be relatively benign, lacking onerous pilot qualifications standards that could have severely restricted the commercial use of drones.
“Technology is advancing at an unprecedented pace and this milestone allows federal regulations and the use of our national airspace to evolve to safely accommodate innovation,” said Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx.
But the rule was unlikely to help Amazon.com in its quest to deliver packages with unmanned drones, since its approach requires an FAA-certified small drone pilot to fly the aircraft and keep it in line of sight at all times — factors not envisioned in the online retailer's plan.
The draft rules, nearly 10 years in the making, must still undergo public comment and revision before becoming final, a process expected to take at least a year.
Federal officials said Sunday that once the regulations are in place the economic and safety benefits of unmanned aircraft are expected to be enormous.
Among the chores that officials envision drones performing: Aerial photography and mapping, crop monitoring, and inspections of cell towers, bridges and other tall structures.
But because the proposal includes safety restrictions such as keeping drones within sight of operators at all times, and because it bans nighttime flights, it could prevent package or pizza deliveries by drone.