There will be 600,000 commercial drone aircraft operating in the U.S. within the year as the result of new safety rules that opened the skies to them on Monday, according to a Federal Aviation Administration estimate.
And a Raleigh firm, PrecisionHawk, is among the early recipients of good news under FAA guidance, having received the first permit for out-of-line-of-sight pilot control.
The rules governing the operation of small commercial drones were designed to protect safety without stifling innovation, FAA Administrator Michael Huerta told a news conference.
Commercial operators initially complained that the new rules would be too rigid. The agency responded by creating a system to grant exemptions to some of the rules for companies that show they can operate safely, Huerta said.
On the first day the rules were in effect the FAA had already granted 76 exemptions, most of them to companies that want to fly drones at night, Huerta said.
“With these rules, we have created an environment in which emerging technology can be rapidly introduced while protecting the safety of the world’s busiest, most complex airspace,” he said.
Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx said people are “captivated by the limitless possibilities unmanned aircraft offer.” The few thousand commercial drones that had been granted waivers to operate before Monday have been used to monitor crops, inspect bridges and transmission lines, assist firefighters, film movies, and create real estate and wedding videos, among dozens of other uses.
In Raleigh, PrecisionHawk said it “can now fly drones beyond its line of sight during its commercial operations.”
Earlier, the company had received n experimental airworthiness certificate to research operations within extended visual line of sight.
“PrecisionHawk has proven a safety case to advance its research to include commercial operations beyond the visual line of sight of the drone operator,” the company said.
The company also can now “train those who want to offer these extended visual line of sight (EVLOS) flights as a service.”
“Under Pathfinder, PrecisionHawk has been able to research and understand the complexities of operating in EVLOS, which we have shared with the FAA to help specify and shape the requirements for doing it safely,” said Thomas Haun, executive vice president at PrecisionHawk. “Large agribusiness fields, forests, mining operations, public utilities and other rural industries are examples of where extended operations are needed, and to accommodate the growing demand, PrecisionHawk has been actively exploring operational and technology solutions to meet this need.”