Would-be drone pilots race to get licensed by the US government

As new FAA regulations regarding commercial drone usage go into effect, thousands of prospective pilots signed up to take the agency's first drone test.

Alex Brandon/AP
A hexacopter drone is flown during a drone demonstration at a farm and winery on potential use for board members of the National Corn Growers in Cordova, Md., last year. More than 3,300 people have registered to take an FAA drone test Monday, the first day available.

When the US Federal Aviation Authority (FAA) unveiled their new regulations on Unmanned Aerial Vehicles back in June, both corporate employees and independent operators began immediately signing up to become commercially licensed drone pilots.

Now more than 3,300 people have registered to take the new FAA drone test the first available day, Monday, Aug. 29, and the FAA estimates within one year the number of licensed drone operators will exceed the 171,000 pilots, CNBC reports.

Where previously commercial drone operators were required to have a pilot's license and to apply for complicated and expensive waivers to fly commercially, the new rules will allow anyone over the age of 16 to take an aeronautical knowledge test at an FAA-approved facility, pass a background check, and become registered as a commercial drone pilot.

As part of the regulations, commercial drones must weigh less than 55 pounds, fly at a maximum altitude of 400 feet and no faster than 100 miles per hour, and always be within the line of sight of the pilot. They can only be operated during daylight hours and up to 30 minutes before sunrise and after sunset, though simple exemptions can be obtained for things like high altitude or night flying as well as other expanded usages.

Prior to announcing the new drone regulations, the FAA had been forced to catch-up with the ever-expanding nature of the UAV industry. As the technology continued to develop rapidly, drones became increasingly accessible for hobbyists and professionals alike. In October of 2015, the FAA made drone registration mandatory for all operators (including hobbyists) following a series of UAV safety incidents and close calls — which had grown to over 100 per month in the summer of 2015, up from 40 per month the previous year.

But the increased regulation appears to primarily affect commercial users, while registered hobbyists potentially engage in undisclosed commercial operations. As The Christian Science Monitor reported in March of this year, more than 6,000 drones were registered for business purposes and there were 400,000 FAA-registered UAV hobbyists.

The previously complicated and drawn-out nature of obtaining commercial UAV waivers pushed many commercially-driven drone users toward clandestine and unregistered professional use. The new FAA regulations mark a major step in the commercial UAV industry as the potential for economically-based drone use continues to grow. The use of UAVs has dramatically affected industries as far-ranging as construction, agriculture, firefighting, and search and rescue. Real estate agents are increasingly utilizing drones to capture aerial footage of both current buildings and for surveying undeveloped properties.

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