Not an Airplane Pilot? You Won’t Be Flying Commercial Drones

A DJI Spreading Wings S900 multi-rotor drone

Photograph by Chip Chipman/Bloomberg

A DJI Spreading Wings S900 multi-rotor drone

Here’s a regulatory riddle no one has yet solved: Does it take an airplane pilot to fly a small drone?

Right now there’s no simple route to using a drone legally in U.S. airspace for commercial purposes. But no shortage of industries expect to make unmanned aerial vehicles—and their human pilots—a part of the future workforce. The list includes everyone from real estate developers and electrical utilities to farmers and filmmakers. As the Federal Aviation Administration finishes its first draft of new rules this month, business interests have closely monitored requirements for drone pilots. If regulators regard the person at the controls as akin to a private pilot, it would mean upwards of 40 flight hours at a cost of up to $10,000, limiting to pool of workers qualified for the job.

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