Operators of drones seek permission to fly out of direct sight


Associated Press

FARGO, N.D.

As thousands of commercial drones take to the skies under new Federal Aviation Administration rules, some small operators are pursuing a coveted exemption that would allow them to fly their drones where they can’t be seen by the pilot.

The companies who want them say the so-called line-of-sight exemptions are essential to someday use drones for such tasks as cleanup and repair after storm damage and monitoring widespread crop conditions.

But thus far, the FAA has only given exemptions to three companies that participated in a year-long FAA pilot program: CNN, BNSF Railway and the drone data company PrecisionHawk.

Although some small commercial drone operators say the new rules are too restrictive, the agency says it drafted them in a way that will save lives, minimize damage on the ground and address the concerns of commercial airline pilots.

Matt Dunlevy, whose Grand Forks-based SkySkopes is pursuing an exemption to help provide services such as infrastructure inspections, said it’s “extremely important” to expand the waiver program.

The FAA expects there will be 600,000 commercial drone aircraft operating in the U.S. within the year.

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