San Francisco Chronicle

Flight path still cloudy


Drones, the unmanned remotecont­rolled aircraft that have grown in popularity over the past several years, aren’t going anywhere. The Federal Aviation Administra­tion’s new rules, released Tuesday, will open the floodgates for tens of thousands more to take to the skies.

The new rules set some important restrictio­ns. They limit most small commercial drone operations to daylight hours and require drones to remain within the operator’s line of sight. Drones need to be 55 pounds or less, and to fly no higher than 400 feet — a concession to aviation pilots, who fear their planes will collide with drones. Drone operators must be at least 16 years old, and they’re required to get certificat­ion every two years from a training course provided by the FAA.

So far, so good — but the rules fail to answer some important questions, and they don’t formally cover the growing segment of hobbyist drones. Congress exempted hobbyists from formal rules, but that group is large and growing — up to a million drones were sold during the 2015 holiday season alone, according to trade groups.

Meanwhile, state and local jurisdicti­ons that passed dozens of laws to restrict drones while the FAA took its time are angry that the new rules may usurp their right to regulate their own airspace. And it’s still not clear how the FAA will deal with other issues that concern people on the ground — like what happens when a drone operator loses connection with an aircraft.

The FAA still needs to clarify some important issues for public safety. These rules are a good start, but drone operators shouldn’t feel cleared for takeoff just yet.

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