Mary Grady | March 21, 2018
Drone flights are restricted within 5 miles of an airport, unless the FAA gives advance permission, but now the FAA is beginning to approve flights within the airport boundaries for professional operators. Last week, the FAA said it will allow first responders to operate drones at Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport — one of the busiest airports in the world. The airport’s police and fire department can fly drones, but they must remain lower than 50 feet above the ground and the operators must maintain contact with ATC at all times. The drones can be equipped with infrared cameras and zoom capabilities to help responders detect various kinds of threats and hazards.
The first FAA approval for such operations went to Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport — the world’s busiest airport — last March. ATL hired a drone operator to help with runway inspections. The contractor said the drone could inspect the runway in less than half the time it would take for the traditional method of manually photographing the runway surface. In a recent report, the FAA said it estimates there are now about 1.1 million drones being flown by amateur operators in the U.S., and it expects that fleet to double in size over the next five years. The number of drones operated for commercial purposes also is growing. About 110,000 commercial operators had registered by the end of 2017, and the FAA projects about 450,000 operators by 2022.
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