Feds wrapping up drone comment period

Feds wrapping up drone comment period
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The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) is wrapping up a comment period on its proposed rules to allow commercial drones that weigh less than 55 pounds to be flown in the U.S. 

The agency’s comment period on the proposal to greatly increase the domestic use of drones is scheduled to end on Friday. 

The rules, which were unveiled in February, are seen as a long-sought victory for advocates of the technology, but critics have raised concerns about potential privacy violations.

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The FAA’s initial rules define small drones as devices that weigh less than 55 pounds and require them to be operated at heights below 500 feet and speeds below 100 miles per hour.

The regulations also call for drone flights to be limited to daytime hours and conducted only by U.S. residents who are older than 17 years of age. Drone operators are also prohibited under the FAA proposal from conducting flights that take the devices out of their line of vision, which is a big blow to companies like Amazon, which has touted the possibility of using the technology to conduct deliveries. 

The rules make drone operators responsible for avoiding collisions with manned aircraft that are in the same airspace as the devices, and prohibit drone flights that “fly over people, except those directly involved with the flight."  

Prior to the announcement of the rules, the FAA had been facing tremendous pressure to approve a rapid expansion of nonmilitary drone use. Congress had given the agency until September 2015 to finalize new the rules for the unmanned aircraft that were proposed on Sunday.

The FAA spent months testing the interaction between drones and other types of commercial and private airplanes at multiple sites across the country.

The pressure on the FAA to quickly approve drones was being ramped up in part because online companies, like Amazon, have said they could be used to speed up delivery times. Amazon has said the initial draft of the rules would prevent the type of drone deliveries it has envisioned, but the agency has granted the company an exemption to continue testing the flights. 

Police and other law enforcement groups were also seeking approval to use the technology, and the FAA has also investigated several drone incidents that occurred in conjunction with college and professional sporting events.