Trump administration proposes allowing drone flights at night, over populous areas

Trump administration proposes allowing drone flights at night, over populous areas
© Greg Nash

The Trump administration is proposing new rules that would allow drones to fly at night without a waiver and permit flights over populated areas.

Transportation Secretary Elaine ChaoElaine Lan ChaoTrump administration takes step to relax truck driver time regulations New guidance on travel with service animals is a step forward, but more can be done The Hill's Morning Report — Mueller testimony gives Trump a boost as Dems ponder next steps MORE during a Monday speech in Washington, D.C., laid out the vision behind the proposal, which would effectively do away with certain regulations that have hindered the use of small unmanned aerial vehicles for commercial use.

"First, at long last, the department is ready to issue for comment a proposed new rule that would allow drones to fly overnight and over people without waivers, if certain conditions are met," she said, according to a copy of her remarks.

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The proposal will be open to public comment for 60 days before it can be finalized.

Chao said the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) intends to both mitigate the risk of drones potentially interfering with other aircraft and ensure both people and property on the ground are protected.

The changes will be welcome news to companies such as Amazon and Alphabet Inc., two major companies  eyeing drones for package delivery.

“This will help communities reap the considerable economic benefits of this growing industry, and help our country remain a global technology leader,” Chao said in her remarks to the nonprofit Transportation Research Board.

Under the proposed rules change, the FAA would do away with the need for drone operators to receive waivers in order to fly the unmanned vehicles at night. The agency said it did not receive any reported drone accidents in 2017 even after granting more than 1,200 waivers, according to the proposal.

The FAA would require drone operators to have “an anti-collision light illuminated and visible for at least 3 statute miles,” according to the proposal.

The FAA is also implementing a different set of rules for small drones.

Those weighing 0.55 pounds or less could fly over populated areas without any additional restrictions. But manufacturers of drones weighing more than that would have to show that if their product "crashed into a person, the resulting injury would be below a certain severity threshold,” the proposal says. 

The proposed changes come amid concern that drones could cause major disruptions — if not pose a danger — to commercial airlines and other aircraft.
 
In recent weeks, two airports in London have had to delay or cancel flights after receiving reports of possible drone sightings.