FAA seeks drone rules favoring commercial uses

White House received FAA proposal in October

A drone bearing the logo of Alpha Media owned Portland radio station FM 101 KXL hovers. (Alpha Media)
A drone bearing the logo of Alpha Media owned Portland radio station FM 101 KXL hovers. (Alpha Media)

WASHINGTON (AP) – A government analysis of the economic and safety impact of small commercial drones appears to clear the way for proposed federal rules that would favor companies wanting to use the unmanned aircraft.

The Federal Aviation Administration’s analysis describes draft rules that would open the door to widespread use of small drones for all kinds of uses – aerial photography, crop monitoring, inspections of cellular towers, bridges and other structures.

The document indicates the FAA has dropped its insistence that drone operators have the same licenses as required for pilots of manned aircraft. Industry officials complained that obtaining a private pilot license would be unnecessarily burdensome.

In October, the FAA submitted a proposal to the White House for small drone regulations. The rules are expected to be released any time.

Here in Oregon

Dion Vineyards owner Kevin Johnson looks forward to the day he can hire people like Jun Yamasaki and videographer Olaf Bahr at his vineyard.

“It’s a perspective, a birds-eye perspective of a vineyard that is going to be hard to get any other way,” Johnson said. “We’re out there all the time but this is an extra way to go even further and see even more. I think there’s things we can see with this that will be interesting, the health of the vines, growth of the vines, maybe crop estimates.”

Videographer Bahr said, “It seems with this proposal they’re really interested in working with operators.”

But charging for this service right now is technically illegal. Current restrictions also hamper business for Laura Garfield’s company, IdeaDecanter.com, that produces marketing videos for vineyards.

“For us there are over 600 wineries in Oregon and that is a big business opportunity,” she said. “That’s a lot of aerial footage, so we would like some clearer (guidelines). It’s kind of a hazy area.”

The FAA’s proposed policy will govern the commercial use of drones up to 55 pounds, calls for operators to pass a written exam of FAA rules and to comply with certain safety requirements — including flying drones no higher than 500 feet during daytime hours. The drones must also stay within sight of the operator.

“It’s encouraging to see the feds moving towards finding people like Olaf who really know what they’re doing,” Garfield said.

Currently it’s mostly a hobby. But if and when drones are OK’d for commercial use, it’s expected to have an economic impact into the billions of dollars.

KOIN 6 News reporter Tim Becker contributed to this report.

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