US drone innovations to take off with new laws
Commercial drones must weigh less than 55 pounds, fly up to a maximum of 400 feet in altitude, at a speed of no more than 100 miles per hour under new rules
Clearer skies are ahead for American businesses betting on drones.
New rules by the US Federal Aviation Authority (FAA) go into effect Monday, clarifying what is acceptable commercial usage of small unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), also known as drones.
Commercial drones must weigh less than 55 pounds, fly up to a maximum of 400 feet in altitude, at a speed of no more than 100 miles per hour, and can only be operated during daytime and up to 30 minutes before sunrise and after sunset, according to the FAA rules. Drone operators must also qualify for flying certificates and be at least 16 years old.
Previously, drone operators had to apply for special waivers from the FAA—a time-consuming and pricey process—to use UAVs for business.
"The current FAA scheme requires commercial drone operators to spend months waiting for an exemption and to employ a pilot with a manned aircraft license from the FAA. Those high barriers to entry have prevented many companies from exploring the benefits of drones in their industry, and have been a source of frustration for business owners for years," DJI, the world's biggest commercial drone-maker, explained in a June statement.
The new rules will allow drones to be put to work in construction, surveying, agriculture, firefighting, search and rescue, conservation, academic research, film and video production and countless other fields that will benefit from an affordable aerial perspective, DJI says.
Operators still need to apply for waivers if they seek to fly drones at night, above 400 feet and in other specific types of operations, the FAA noted.
The new rules could generate more than US$82 billion for the US economy and create more than 100,000 new jobs over the next 10 years, the FAA said, citing industry estimates.
While the new laws don't specifically address deliveries, they will help spark more research and innovation on drone delivery, Graham Wild, a senior lecturer at Australia's RMIT University, told CNBC's 'Street Signs' on Monday.
A number of businesses, such as e-commerce giant Amazon , have announced plans for drone deliveries, but many have outsourced delivery operations to other countries due to a lack of proper regulation in their home market, Wild explained.
For example, Nevada-based start-up Flirtey announced a partnership with Domino's Pizza in New Zealand last week on what the companies called "the world's first commercial pizza-by-drone delivery model."
New Zealand boasted the most forward-thinking aviation regulations in the world, Flirtey CEO Matt Sweeny said in a statement.
Boeing, meanwhile, has conducted drone operations in Australia, which was one of the first countries to regulate UAVs, Wild noted.
Wild believes Americans could get their pizza and Amazon deliveries via drone later this year or early next year, following in New Zealand's footsteps.
But critics flag US population density as a major challenge to implementation.
Spacious countries such as New Zealand offer a better environment for drone deliveries, compared to New York's crowded landscape for example, according to Standard Chartered's Chief Asia Economist David Mann.