A small drone hovers in front of 3D Robotics founder Chris Anderson. Photo by Christopher Michel via Wikimedia Commons

In an unusual weekend announcement, the Federal Aviation Administration on Sunday proposed new rules to allow routine commercial use of small drones.

The rules are especially important for San Diego, where companies like General Atomics and 3D Robotics have pioneered drone technology, and the FAA’s announcement was widely anticipated. Drones are already being used to take aerial photos for real estate and other purposes, even though it is technically illegal.

View of Carmel Valley from a small hobby drone.

“We have tried to be flexible in writing these rules,” said FAA Administrator Michael Huerta. “We want to maintain today’s outstanding level of aviation safety without placing an undue regulatory burden on an emerging industry.”

Under the proposed rules, operators must be at least 17 years old, pass an aeronautical knowledge test and obtain an FAA certificate. The rules cover what the FAA classifies as “unmanned aircraft systems” weighting under 55 pounds.

Among the other highlights of the proposed rules are:

  • Drones can only be flown in daylight.
  • An operator must be able to keep the drone in his or her line of sight.
  • Flights should be limited to 500 feet altitude and no faster than 100 mph.
  • A small drone may not fly over people, except those directly involved with the flight.
  • Manned aircraft have the right of way and must be avoided.
  • An operator must end a drone flight if it poses a hazard to other aircraft, people or property.
  • An operator must assess weather conditions, airspace restrictions and the location of people to lessen risks if he or she loses control of the drone
  • Operators must stay out of airport flight paths and restricted airspace areas.

Hobby and recreational use of drones continues to be permitted, and the proposed commercial rules may be relaxed for smaller drones under 4.4 pounds.

The FAA will take public comment for 60 days from the rules’ date of publication in the Federal Register, and the agency said it will intends to hold public meetings.

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