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A relaxation of US rules will let drones fly at night and over people

January 15, 2019

The US aviation regulator is proposing to relax rules on drones, letting them fly over populated areas and fly at night without requiring special permits.

The news: During a speech in Washington yesterday, transportation secretary Elaine Chao announced plans to “allow drones to fly overnight and over people without waivers, if certain conditions are met,” under new proposals drafted by the US Federal Aviation Administration. There are nearly 1.3 million registered drones in the US and over 116,000 drone operators, she said.

Testing: Chao also announced a pilot program to develop a traffic management system for drones operating below 400 feet (122 meters). It will run until September 2019 at three sites in Nevada, Virginia, and North Dakota.

Interesting timing: The proposals from the FAA come just as the UK government plans to toughen up drone laws in the wake of disruption at two major airports caused by drone sightings.

So why do it? Tech companies like Amazon and Google are working on projects to deliver packages by drone, and the FAA says the challenge is to mitigate risks without inhibiting innovation. It thinks the regulatory environment has become too risk-averse and hopes that loosening the rules will boost experimentation.

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