Hundreds apply for FAA drone licenses

Despite many requirements, companies are eager to fly drones

The Federal Aviation Administration has issued eight more drone licenses, the latest approvals for several hundred applications it has received.

While people are free to fly drones for personal use and enjoyment, the FAA has claimed commercial use requires a license -- something that comes with specific requirements. Pilots of commercial drones must have at least an FAA Private Pilot certificate and a current medical certificate, the drone must remain within line of sight at all times, and the pilot must be assisted by an observer.

Nevertheless, the attraction of operating a drone has led 342 companies and individuals to apply for licenses, the FAA said Tuesday.

A large number of those applications relate to drone use for imaging applications, as can be seen from Tuesday's approvals. The newest licenses went to companies planning to use drones for video and TV production, aerial photography and surveying and inspecting flare stacks in the oil, natural gas and petro-chemical industry.

The latest licenses bring to 24 the number of licenses issued by the FAA since September last year, when the first licenses went to movie and TV production companies.

Regulations governing use of drones, or "unmanned aerial systems" in government-speak, are continuing to develop. Several stipulations already exist including a ban on flying drones within five miles of airports. Also off limits are many professional sports events including NFL and MLB games, NCAA games in stadiums that seat more than 30,000 people and many NASCAR events.

The FAA warned before last weekend's Super Bowl that drone operators could face jail time for violating a no-fly zone that extended 30 nautical miles around the University of Phoenix Stadium in Glendale, Arizona.

The recent crash of a drone on the White House lawn highlighted an existing ban on flying the objects over Washington, D.C. In response to that incident, drone-maker DJI said it will incorporate controls into new software for its drones that prevent them from flying within 15.5 miles of the U.S. capital. The drones include a GPS receiver that makes such a function possible. They are already programmed to avoid flying around "sensitive institutions."

Martyn Williams covers mobile telecoms, Silicon Valley and general technology breaking news for The IDG News Service. Follow Martyn on Twitter at @martyn_williams. Martyn's e-mail address is martyn_williams@idg.com

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