FAA seeking drone rules favorable to commercial operators

Staff Writer
Columbus CEO

WASHINGTON (AP) — The Federal Aviation Administration cites economic and safety benefits in seeking rules largely favorable to companies that want to use small drones, according to an agency analysis.

The analysis describes draft rules that would open the door to widespread uses of drones weighing less than 55 pounds. That includes aerial photography, crop monitoring, and inspections of cell towers, bridges and other tall structures.

In October, the FAA submitted proposed regulations for the White House budget office to review. The rules, in the works for years, are expected to be released at any time.

The regulations would improve safety by substituting the use of small, lightweight unmanned aircraft for heavier, manned aircraft that "pose a higher level of risk," the analysis said. It notes that between 2004 and 2012, there were 95 fatalities involving climbers working on cell and other towers.

If the rules would prevent only one fatality by using a small drone instead of a tower climber, the $9.2 million saved — the amount the government says is the economic value of a single life — would exceed the entire cost of the regulations to society, according to the document.

The analysis does not offer a total estimate on the annual economic benefit of regulations, but says it would exceed $100 million a year.

The document indicates the agency has dropped its insistence that drone operators have the same licenses and medical certificates required for pilots of manned aircraft. Industry officials complained that obtaining a private pilot license or medical certificate would be unnecessarily burdensome.

Commercial operators would have to take a test administered by the FAA before they could receive a certificate granting permission to operate a drone. The agency estimates the cost of obtaining certificate at about $300.

A private pilot license can cost tens of thousands of dollars because it requires many hours of experience flying a plane.

The analysis was first reported by Forbes on Saturday.

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