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Photo: VP Photo Studio - Fotolia

The Federal Aviation Administration has published a proposed “framework of regulations” (available here as a .pdf file) that would govern the use of unmanned aircraft systems (UAS), or “drones,” in the U.S. Once these proposed rules are officially published in the Federal Register, the public will have 60 days to comment on them.

For now, at least, the regulations would pretty much guarantee that companies like Amazon and Google X will not be able to use drones for business deliveries, because one part of the FAA proposal demands that drones only be flown within their operators' line-of sight. (That said: the FAA is also seeking comment about the proposed line-of-sight regulations.)

Other proposed regulations include a maximum airspeed of 100 mph and altitude of 500 feet above ground level; a requirement that drones only be operated during daylight hours and under weather conditions clear enough that the operator can see at least three miles; a requirement that all such drones weigh less than 55 pounds; and others.

It is possible that whatever rules the FAA does eventually adopt will be more lenient. The proposed rules, after all, would make it impossible for businesses to profitably (or legally) make use of drones in the United States – which is why companies such as Amazon are already looking to test drone-based business models in other countries.

Red flag laws

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Photo: Daimler.co.uk

Where unmanned aircraft are concerned, the FAA does need to tread carefully, to ensure that whatever sensible-sounding rules it proposes today don't become the future equivalent of the “Red-Flag Laws” various governments passed back when “horseless carriages” were still the radical new transporation technology: in the United Kingdom, for example, early laws made it illegal for “self-propelled vehicles” to drive down public roads unless those vehicles were preceeded by a walking person waving a red flag.

Of course, such laws were soon rescinded – modern life as we know it today would be impossible, if personal and commercial ground-transportation vehicles were legally restricted to moving no faster than a healthy adult can walk.

And there's a pretty good chance that a few generations from now, journalists and textbook writers discussing the history of unmanned aircraft will write “Of course, those early laws were soon rescinded – modern life as we know it today would be impossible, if personal and commercial delivery drones were legally restricted to flying no further away than their operators could see.”


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