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The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) announced its proposed rules for flying small commercial unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) in U.S. airspace—providing thousands of businesses with clearance to use drones weighing up to 55 pounds for purposes such as surveying jobsites or taking aerial photographs.

Under the proposed rules, operators will be required to pass a written proficiency test and pay approximately $200 in fees, but they will not be required to obtain a pilot’s license. The drones must fly less than 100 miles per hour and stay below an altitude of 500 feet, or approximately 40 stories. The drones also would be required to stay within the pilot’s eyesight and to be flown during daylight.

The rules would not apply to people who fly drones for recreational purposes.

The FAA also is considering regulations to include a micro UAS classification, which would codify drones under 4.4 pounds allow them to fly up to 400 feet. Operators would be able to self-certify (i.e., sign a statement for the FAA confirming their UAS knowledge) rather than take a proficiency test.

The proposed regulations are scheduled to take effect in January 2017. Once the rules are finalized, the FAA estimates that more than 7,000 businesses will obtain drone permits within three years.


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