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June 17 — The Federal Aviation Administration likely will release a final rule the week of June 20 that would allow small commercial drone flights, according to an industry group.
The FAA is expected to release final regulations as early as June 20 that would permit commercial unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) weighing less than 55 pounds to fly in the U.S., the Small UAV Coalition said in a statement June 17. Currently drone operators must receive an exemption from the FAA before flying commercially.
The FAA did not respond to a request for comment, but agency Administrator Michael Huerta has said he expected the FAA to issue the rule by June. The FAA released a draft rule last February following months of criticism from lawmakers and industry groups about the agency's slow progress on integrating drones into the national airspace.
The FAA's proposed regulations laid out a framework that would restrict flights to daylight hours, 500 feet of altitude and 100 miles per hour. Drones also would have to remain within the operator's line of sight and not be flown over people, other than those involved with the flight.
Industry had a mixed reaction to the proposal with companies like Amazon.com Inc., which plans to launch a drone delivery service, especially critical of a line-of-sight restriction, saying it would limit innovation.
A Senate-passed FAA reauthorization bill (H.R. 636) would require the agency to finalize regulations allowing drone delivery services within two years. Congress has until July 15 to renew spending authority for the FAA, though it now looks as if lawmakers will more than likely pass a short-term extension rather than a long-term bill.
The Small UAV Coalition said there was still work to be done when it came to flight restrictions but still called the FAA's pending release of the final rule “a major step.”
“The industry will no longer be identified by exceptions, exemptions, and the art of the possible; rather, it will now be ‘open for business',” said Gregory Walden, counsel to the Small UAV Coalition and former FAA chief counsel.
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