Will FAA’s Drone Rules Help Cities Wrangle the Technology?

The cutting-edge technology has a big urban impact — and not necessarily one that’s all bad.

A drone crashed onto White House grounds in January. (AP Photo/U.S. Secret Service)

As cities and nations around the world grapple with how to respond to the growing list of “things you can do with drones” — from delivering tea to delivering urbanscape eye candy — the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration announced yesterday a much-anticipated proposal regarding the commercial use of unmanned aircraft systems.

Regulations would require operators to be certified, fly only during daylight and keep their aircraft in sight, and could prohibit drone delivery services being explored by major companies like Amazon and Google.

As Craig Guillot wrote in a recent Next City feature on drones, the cutting-edge technology has a big urban impact — and not necessarily one that’s all bad.

Already, in cities around the world from Toronto to Beijing, drones are being used to inspect power lines and buildings. A UAV can fly to the top of a 300-foot radio tower or climb over a 23-story building and hover there while mapping with a thermal sensor or taking photos. The technology allows workers to stay safe on the ground and at the same time, detect problems far more efficiently than in the past.

The FAA’s proposed regulations could take up to two years to go into effect.

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

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Jenn Stanley is a freelance journalist, essayist and independent producer living in Chicago. She has an M.S. from the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University.

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