U.S. Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao outlined a proposal that would allow drones to operate over populated areas and end a requirement for special permits for night use: long-awaited moves that are expected to help speed commercial use of small unmanned aerial vehicles in the United States.
The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) said that in developing the proposal its challenge was to “balance the need to mitigate the risk small unmanned aircraft pose to other aircraft and to people and property on the ground without inhibiting innovation.”
For operations over populated areas, the FAA proposes that operators would be able to fly small unmanned aircraft weighing 0.55 lb. (0.25 kg) or less without any additional restrictions.
But the FAA would set additional rules for larger drones.
For drones weighing more than 0.55 lb., a manufacturer would need to demonstrate that if an “unmanned aircraft crashed into a person, the resulting injury would be below a certain severity threshold.”
Those larger drones could not have exposed rotating parts that could lacerate human skin and could not operate over people if they have any safety defects, the FAA said.
The FAA would prohibit operations of the largest drones over any open-air assembly of people.
The FAA is also proposing ending requirements that drone operators get waivers to operate at night. Through 2017, the FAA granted 1,233 waivers and “has not received any reports of (drone) accidents,” it said.
The FAA would require drones have “an anti-collision light illuminated and visible for at least three statute miles.”
The proposal will be open to public comment before it can be finalized.