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This last Tuesday President Obama signed legislation which directs the Federal Aviation Administration to create regulations to allow greater use of unmanned aerial vehicles in the U.S. by government agencies, private organizations and law enforcement beyond limited use along borders by federal agencies.
Under the new law, within 90 days, the FAA must allow police and first responders to fly drones under 4.4 pounds, as long as they keep them under an altitude of 400 feet and meet other requirements. The agency must also allow for the safe integration of all kinds of drones into American airspace, including those for commercial uses, by Sept. 30, 2015. And it must come up with a plan for certifying operators and handling airspace safety issues, among other rules.
The market for drones is valued at $5.9 billion and is expected to double in the next decade, according to industry figures. Drones can cost millions of dollars for the most sophisticated varieties to as little as $300 for one that can be piloted from an iPhone. The military says it now has nearly 7,500 drones, up from about 50 before Sept. 11, 2001. In the past, the FAA allowed use of the drones in U.S. airspace only with special certificates; it issued 313 special certificates last year.
There is a huge potential market for civilian and commercial uses of unmanned aircraft systems, says Ben Gielow, general counsel for the industry group Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International.