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FAA Regulations Could Stifle Commercial Drone Industry

The Federal Aviation Administration finally issued draft regulations for commercial drones on Sunday, but critics are concerned the new rules could severely restrict the fledgling industry.

The rules were issued shortly after President Obama issued a memorandum on Sunday giving federal agencies 90 days to start drafting guidelines, Fox News reports, but may not be finalized for two to three years as the agency awaits public comments.

Congress ordered the FAA to develop and implement these rules by late 2015, a deadline that will almost certainly not be met. According to the Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International, an industry trade group, “the U.S. loses $27.6 million a day—or $10 billion each year,” because of the lack of a regulatory structure for commercial drone use.

Officials have yet to release an official estimate of the economic benefits that are likely to result from allowing commercial drone use, Fox claims, “but say it would exceed $100 million a year.” (RELATED: FAA Poised to Miss Deadline for Drone Regulations)

The FAA regulations would allow drones weighing less than 55 pounds to be used for commercial purposes provided the operators pass a knowledge test administered by the FAA and a security check by the Transportation Safety Administration.

Operators would also need to be at least 17 years old, “pass a recurrent aeronautical knowledge test every 24 months,” and allow the FAA to inspect drones upon request.

“We have tried to be flexible in writing these rules,” said FAA Administrator Michael Huerta, explaining that, “We want to maintain today’s outstanding level of aviation safety without placing an undue regulatory burden on an emerging industry.”

According to the Atlantic, though, the “operational limitations” envisioned by the FAA pose the real threat to commercial drones. (RELATED: Man’s Personal Drone Army Patrols Mississippi)

One rule in particular—that drones “must remain in the visual line of sight of their operators or observers”—could effectively prohibit companies like Amazon from using drones to make deliveries, since such programs rely on “remote piloting.”

Paul Misener, Amazon vice-president of global public policy, told the Guardian that, “We are committed to realizing our vision for Prime Air and are prepared to deploy where we have the regulatory support we need,” indicating that Amazon is prepared to fight the regulations during the public comment period.

“The FAA needs to begin and expeditiously complete the formal process to address the needs of our business, and ultimately our customers,” Misener added. (RELATED: Drone Industry Asks Government for Regulations)

Government officials did indicate openness to working with Amazon and other companies interested in using drones, but stopped short of making any concrete promises.

“We know that technology is changing very rapidly,” U.S. Secretary of Transportation Anthony Foxx told the Guardian. “We are not done yet and we are going to continue working to ensure we are moving as quickly as possible but also as safely as possible to ensure that we integrate these new technologies into the airspace.”

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