The FAA might allow commercial drones to fly over people, after all
If there’s been anything resembling a constant in drone laws across the world, it’s that you can’t fly commercial drones over groups of people.

But that might soon change stateside as today the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) released a report from a government-sponsored committee that tackles what companies should do in order to fly their crafts over people for business purposes.

The most noteworthy thing about it? That the government is even considering allowing it at all.

Watch out below

Hobbyists have long been allowed to fly their drones over the huddled masses here in the US, but following the recommendations outlined in the report would pave the way for drone deliveries by companies like Amazon.

The question of the safety of people below has long been a hurdle for related legislation. Notably, the report doesn’t rule out the possibility that occasionally a drone will fall from the sky and thunk unwitting passersby on the head.

The hope, though, is that the drone will be designed in such a way that any injuries will be minimal.

The committee thus calls for four categories of commercial drones based on weight and force of impact. A commercial drone that weighs less than half a pound could fly without any restrictions at all, provided its manufacturers can prove that the risk of injury is less than 1%.

Aye, there’s the rub, especially since the recommendations would allow drones to fly as close as 20 feet over the heads of people below. Drones weighing more than half a pound would also be allowed to fly over crowds if the manufacturers can prove the 1% injury chance, but they’d have to certify the proof with the FAA.

Droning on

On the bright side (for manufacturers), the burden of testing such a high standard of quality would fall on the drone makers themselves, thus eliminating the need for the FAA to channel resources into an organization specifically designed for the effort.

The details of such a test are still up in the air, as there’s some disagreement over whether the steps involved should also include, say, a background check from the Transportation Security Administration.

But the consequences of failing to reach this magical 1% would be dire. Any commercial drone that failed to meet that standard would have additional restrictions placed on it, and it still wouldn’t even be allowed to fly over crowds.

The word “crowds” is important in this context as the committee’s suggestions allow for as much as a 30% chance of injury with these heavier devices in some settings, such as movie sets or construction sites. It’s in those places where people would have a higher likelihood of knowing the drone is in the air. Flying them announced above huge groups of people, though, will be out of the question.

Keep in mind, though, that the committee’s report amounts to mere suggestions, although there are also suggestions from the likes of 3D Robotics, the General Aviation Manufacturers Association, GoogleX, and Intel – groups and companies with advice the FAA takes very seriously.

Even so, it’s likely we won’t see any real legislation based off the report for weeks or months, and even then local governments will be able to make their own laws that override the general allowances of the FAA.

But it’s a start, right?

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