Air Transportation Federal agencies

Proposed rule would allow drones to fly at night, over people

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Photo: Leonid Eremeychuk/iStockphoto

Washington — The Department of Transportation intends to seek comment on separate advance notices of proposed rulemaking on the safe operation and integration of drones, including a measure that would allow civilians to operate drones at night and over populated areas without a waiver, Secretary of Transportation Elaine Chao announced Jan. 14.

Federal Aviation Administration regulations under 14 CFR Part 107 prohibit flying small drones at night, as well as over people, without a waiver. Speaking at the Transportation Research Board’s annual meeting, Chao said DOT is preparing to issue a proposed rule that would permit nighttime use by operators who complete appropriate training and approved testing while equipping their drones with anti-collision lighting.

The proposed rule also would allow for the operation of drones above people, provided a drone weighs 0.55 pounds or less, or meets certain design and injury threshold criteria if exceeding that weight. DOT plans to propose two additional categories of permissible flight “based on the risk of injury they present,” according to a draft of the rule.

At the meeting, Chao acknowledged that DOT is “keenly aware that there are legitimate public concerns about drones concerning safety, security and privacy,” and reinforced that drones and drone operators would be required to meet various conditions to be eligible for these exemptions.

A second proposed rule would seek public input on emerging drone safety and security concerns as drones become more prevalent in the national airspace and FAA considers additional regulations.

In her remarks, Chao notes that nearly 1.3 million drones and 116,000 drone operators were registered nationwide as of Dec. 14.

“We are not in the business of picking technology winners and losers,” Chao said. “Our philosophy is to encourage the widest possible development of safe new transportation technologies, so consumers and communities can choose the mix of options that suits them best.”

Chao said comments for both ANPRMs will be due 60 days after publication in the Federal Register.

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