There's good news, and there's bad news. The good news is that the US Aviation Administration (FAA) is getting really close to finalising its rules for commercial drones. The bad news is that those rules could be terribly restrictive.
The Wall Street Journal reports that the FAA will require commercial drone operators to have a pilot's licence and restrict flight times to daylight hours. The new rules will also limit flights to the pilot's line of sight and altitude to 120m. The really bad news is that these rules won't just apply for big Predator-sized drones. They will apply to any unmanned aircraft under 25kg. That would include small, affordable, easy-to-fly drones like the DJI Phantom line and the new Parrot Bebop.
So what does all this mean? Well, first of all, it's just a report based on information from "people familiar with the rule-making process", but it's a report from a very trustworthy source. Such restrictive rules definitely aren't what the drone community wants, though. While Hollywood and its big budgets can deal with such serious regulations -- in fact, they already are -- rules like these could prevent the people who stand to benefit most from drones, people like farmers and search-and-rescue teams. According to WSJ, the FAA is actually going to "require dozens of hours flying manned aircraft" in order to receive a commercial drone pilot licence. Farmers don't have the time or money to do that.
All that said, there are a couple of reasons not to freak out about this news, if you're an aspiring drone pilot. The main one is that these rules probably won't be finalised for a couple of years. The FAA is expected to announce them at the end of the year, and the rules are currently being reviewed by other parts of the government, including the White House. The other one is that it's so far unclear how these rules will impact hobby drone regulations. So taking the old Phantom for a spin with your kids probably won't necessarily require you to learn how to fly a plane first -- although a recent ruling indicates that the FAA can and will eventually regulate all civilian drones.
If you're bothered by the news though, now's the time to speak up. It's worth pointing out that the FAA is dealing with a tough challenge. The agency, in its own words, has to "integrate unmanned aircraft into the busiest, most complex airspace system in the world." That's not easy! But it's also worth pointing out that other countries are dealing with the same challenge without going all hall patrol on the citizens. Canada's new rules, for instance, are very friendly to the commercial drone industry.
Well, Canada's going to need all the help it can get with those jelly lakes and what not. It doesn't hurt that their massive oil industry also stands to benefit from commercial drones. Then again, so does ours. [WSJ]