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View from around the state: FAA opens skies to new technology

The Federal Aviation Administration has finally put into effect long-awaited rules for the use of smaller commercial drones.

Primarily, these rules will open the skies to valuable and innovative applications of this relatively new technology – allowing it to be put to better use in in agriculture, mining, rescue operations, home and building construction, insurance inspections after storms or disasters, utility-line inspections and security-system operations, not to mention hundreds of other endeavors.

“These aircraft truly have the potential to transform the way we fly,” said U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx as the new regulations were rolled out.

Indeed, they do. By the end of the year the transportation department expects some 600,000 commercial drones to be operating in the United States. That should help the U.S., which has lagged behind other countries in the use of the airborne devices, catch up.

Chief among the FAA rule changes is one that ended a previous requirement that had let only licensed aircraft pilots fly drones that are being used for business purposes. Instead, operators will simply be able to pass a written test to get a remote-pilot command license. The license costs $150 and the operator must be at least 16 years old.

At the same time, the new rules keep in place restrictions such as a 55-pound limit on the weight of drones, a requirement that drones be kept in sight of operators at all times, a maximum flying height of 400 feet to keep drones out of the way of commercial planes, and a requirement that drone not be flown over people.

While the rules retain a ban on night-time operation, the FAA will allow exceptions if a company or operator demonstrates flying when the sun is down can be done safely.

We expect some of the other limits will also change over time as the safety and efficiency of commercial drone use is demonstrated.

For now it is a good first step toward — a mix of caution and innovation — that will help put these devices in the sky in a way that will reduce costs and help thousands of businesses run more efficiently.

The sky is the limit.

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