Air Transportation Federal agencies

Proposed rule permitting drones to fly at night, over people includes provisions for closed or restricted workplaces

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Washington — The Federal Aviation Administration has issued a proposed rule that would allow civilians to operate drones at night and over populated areas without a waiver, amending current regulations that prohibit such activities.

The proposed rule, published in the Feb. 13 Federal Register, would permit nighttime use by operators who complete appropriate training and approved testing while equipping their drones with anti-collision lighting. Drones that operate over people would be required to weigh 0.55 pounds or less or fulfill certain design and injury threshold criteria if exceeding that weight.

Additionally, the rule proposes two other categories of permissible flight “based on the risk of injury they present.” Operations in the third category “present a higher likelihood of causing a casualty by blunt trauma” than the other categories, the proposed rule states, and involve operations conducted over closed- or restricted-access worksites under the permission of the site operator. Operation over open assemblies of people is prohibited.

According to the proposed rule, Category 3 operations may include:

  • Agricultural fields where workers are conducting agricultural operations.
  • Bridge inspections that include workers who may be conducting inspection or construction activities.
  • Filming operations that include movie set location employees, such as caterers, set designers and actors.

The drones “must be designed, upon impact with a person, not to result in an injury as severe as the injury that would result from a transfer of 25 [foot-pounds] of kinetic energy from a rigid object.” The force of 1 foot-pound is equivalent to a 1-pound object falling 1 foot.

 

Drones in Categories 2 and 3 may not include exposed rotating parts that can lacerate human skin, and may not operate if FAA has identified a safety defect in the equipment.

The deadline to comment on the proposed rule is April 15.

The FAA regulates drones under 14 CFR Part 107.

Speaking at the Transportation Research Board’s annual meeting in January, Secretary of Transportation Elaine Chao said nearly 1.3 million drones and 116,000 drone operators were registered nationwide as of Dec. 14.

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