(Recasts; adds quote from FAA official, details from Amazon and
By David Morgan
WASHINGTON, June 17 U.S. commercial drone
operations could take flight on a large scale by this time next
year, as federal regulators finalize rules allowing widespread
unmanned aerial system use by companies, according to
congressional testimony on Wednesday.
A senior Federal Aviation Administration official said the
agency expects to finalize regulations within the next 12
months. Previous forecasts had anticipated rules by the end of
2016 or the beginning of 2017.
"The rule will be in place within a year," FAA Deputy
Administrator Michael Whitaker said in testimony before the U.S.
House of Representatives Oversight and Government Reform
Committee. "Hopefully before June 17, 2016," he added.
Drone advocates expect unmanned aerial systems to transform
a number of industries - from agriculture and energy production
to real estate, news and entertainment, transportation and
At the congressional hearing, a senior Amazon.com
executive told lawmakers that the e-commerce retailer would be
ready to begin delivering packages to customers via drones as
soon as federal rules allow.
"We'd like to begin delivering to our customers as soon as
it's approved," Misener said. "We will have (the technology) in
place by the time any regulations are ready. We are working very
Amazon said its plans, which call for delivering packages to
customers within 30 minutes, would require FAA rules to
accommodate advanced drone technology envisioned by the
company's Prime Air operations.
FAA regulations proposed in February are more restrictive -
requiring drones to fly during daylight hours only and to remain
within an operator's visual line of sight.
FAA officials are in discussions with industry stakeholders
including Amazon and Google Inc about crafting final
regulations that could accommodate more sophisticated drone
systems capable of flying autonomously over longer distances.
Whitaker said in written testimony that advanced technology
standards are scheduled to be completed in 2016.
The shortened FAA time-horizon for final rules follows a
series of agency actions to accommodate commercial drones. FAA
officials have been under pressure from lawmakers and industry
lobbyists, who claim U.S. companies are losing billions in
potential savings and revenues while waiting for regulators to
open the way for drones.
The agency has also streamlined its process for exempting
companies from a near-ban on commercial drone operations.
Whitaker said the FAA is now allowing up to 50 companies a week
to use drones as part of their businesses.
(Reporting by David Morgan; Editing by Jeffrey Benkoe, Chizu
Nomiyama and Leslie Adler)