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New year, new rules on drones

AP Photo/Mark Lennihan, File

AP Photo/Mark Lennihan, File

As 2014 winds down, government officials are looking toward 2015 as the year that might see some big decisions on how drones are incorporated into the U.S. aviation system.

The Obama administration is close to proposing regulations on how to man drones in the country and will likely go public with the proposal some time in January of next year, as reports the Associated Press. The Federal Aviation Administration, however, originally wanted to finish the rules by the end of December.

Moreover, lawmakers in Congress will also have to decide how much access should be given to drones, an issue that the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee has made a priority in 2015.

“We in Congress are very interested in UAS [unmanned aircraft systems],” explained Rep. Bill Shuster (R-Pa.), who chairs the committee, at a recent hearing. “We understand UAS are an exciting technology with the potential to transform parts of our economy. … It is our responsibility to take a close look.”

In particular, the committee plans to write legislation that both reauthorizes FAA programs and also overhauls the FAA aviation policy. The lawmakers will likely use the bill to specify exactly how drones should be incorporated into the current aviation system.

Though the reauthorization legislation passed in 2012 instructed the FAA to bring drones into the aviation system by September of next year, that deadline is no longer reasonable.

And, even if the Obama administration does move on the recommended drone regulations early next year, the rules likely won’t be finalized for two or three more years after they are initially proposed.

Unfortunately, there will continue to be a ban on commercial drone flights until any such rules are finalized. And, according to the Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International, this means an over $10 billion loss per year in possible economic benefits for the U.S.

“We need some sort of process that allows some of the low-risk operations,” urged Jesse Kallman, who works for drone tech company Airware. “I think Congress understands that, and hopefully they’ll take steps in the coming year to address that.”

Considering drones were a popular Christmas gift this year, Americans will likely be happy about the prospect of the government moving on rules that could make commercial drones a more permanent fixture in our skies.

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