The US on Tuesday unveiled a set of ground rules for the use of small commercial drones which will enable the safe expansion of a new generation of aviation technologies that will create jobs, enhance public safety and advance scientific inquiry.
The new rules provides the first national, uniform guidelines for non-recreational operation of unmanned aircraft systems under 55 pounds, the White House said.
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Under the new rule, drone flight will be permitted for commercial, scientific, public, and educational purposes, pursuant to a set of operational and safety requirements, the White House said.
“We are in the early days of an aviation revolution that will transform how we gather information about our world, enable more accurate science, move products around the country, and protect public health and the environment,” it said.
Noting that aviation technologies in recent years have emerged that are powering a revolution in unmanned flight, the White House said the development of these technologies has made drones commercially available at scale for the first time.
Commercial operators are using unmanned aircraft for a wide variety of applications, and consumers can choose from scores of vehicles of different sizes and capacities, many of which can be taken out of a box, launched directly into flight, and operated from a smart phone or a tablet, it said.
Unmanned aircraft can monitor crop health in real-time for farmers who are trying to manage farms that are hundreds or even thousands of acres, it said.
By reducing the need for manned aircraft in agricultural operations, drones can help reduce fatal agricultural aviation accidents and can increase crop yields by providing higher-quality data about the ground below, it added.
Unmanned aircraft systems can also save lives by helping workers inspect cell phone towers, bridges, pipelines, electric lines and oil rigs.
Further, scientists and engineers can use unmanned aircraft for more effective environmental monitoring of natural resources, wildlands and waterways, it said.
The White House said new rule requires that unmanned aircraft to be flown according to a simple set of rules that will protect people on the ground and manned aircraft.
These include, a requirement to avoid operating unmanned aircraft over people; and a requirement for non-recreational remote pilots to pass a written knowledge test and to go through the same security vetting process as traditional manned-aircraft pilots.
The rules included a requirement for unmanned aircraft to stay at least 5 miles from airports and, among other reasonable restrictions, generally fly at an altitude below 400 feet, creating a safe buffer between unmanned and manned aircraft, which can generally fly no lower than 500 feet.
It also asks that remote pilots to keep unmanned aircraft within visual sight.
While this rule prohibits unmanned aircraft flight over people for safety reasons, as commercial unmanned aircraft use expands, companies will be able to gather new kinds of data.
While this possibility creates significant economic opportunities, it also raises important privacy considerations, it noted.
“Entities that plan to use unmanned aircraft systems to gather personal information should have plans in place for how they collect, use and protect personal information.
Like basic safety precautions, privacy should be a building block of every flight plan and every unmanned aircraft system operation,” the White House said.