Drone Deliveries May Arrive Sooner than Expected Thanks to New FAA Plan

January 15, 2019, 11:35 AM UTC

The Trump administration proposed a series of new rules Monday that would loosen regulations on drone use.

Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao announced plans to make it easier to operate drones over crowds and at night. Currently, civilian drones are not permitted for use directly over people, due to concerns that they could fall from the sky and hit an unsuspecting person. Night use currently requires special permits.

The draft rules divide drones by categories such as weight and other criteria. Those under 55 pounds would be permitted to fly over people. To operate those above that weight over people, manufacturers would need to demonstrate that if the drone hit a person “the resulting injury would be below a certain severity threshold.” The largest drones would still not be allowed to be flown over crowds.

The rules also propose additional training for ground operators and installing anticollision lights. The FAA has not yet determined whether it will set minimum separation distances or maximum speeds for smaller drones.

By loosening the existing laws, drone deliveries could sooner become a reality. The proposed changes could also enable other uses for drones, including newsgathering, surveying construction sites, and crowd control.

The proposal will open for public comment for 60 days before it is finalized. Nevertheless, such changes would not be implemented immediately. Amid concerns surrounding safety and security, the FAA is also developing a separate set of proposals that would enable remote identification of drones, but these are not expected until at least May. Such concerns were renewed at the end of last year when hundreds of flights were canceled following drone sightings at London’s Gatwick and Heathrow Airports.