FAA plans new steps to speed up commercial drone use: sources
By David Morgan
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The U.S. Federal Aviation Administration plans to unveil new steps soon to make it easier for companies to use drone aircraft for specific business operations, according to people with knowledge of the matter.
Commercial drone flights are generally banned in the United States, except in a small number of cases where the FAA has granted an exemption. The has agency received more than 750 requests for exemptions to the ban, but has awarded only 48.
Now the U.S. aviation regulator intends to streamline the process by no longer requiring companies with exemptions to obtain a new certificate of authority for each new use of a drone, the people familiar with the matter said.
The FAA could announce the change next week, ahead of a congressional hearing on drones scheduled for Tuesday, these people added.
The FAA had no immediate comment. The agency has been taking measured steps to ease restrictions on commercial use of drones.
The change in policy could be a positive signal to a wide swath of companies that are pushing for federal regulators to remove barriers to commercial uses of automated aircraft, and help foster growth of an emerging sector of manufacturers and service providers built around drone technology.
The rule changes also would be a boost for companies that already have exemptions from the commercial drone ban, such as Chevron (CVX.N: Quote), Berkshire Hathaway's BNSF Railway Co (BRKa.N: Quote), State Farm Mutual Automobile Insurance Co, and a number of film and media companies. Those companies could get more flexibility to use pilotless aircraft for rail and pipeline inspections, crop surveys and aerial photography for commercials or movies.