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The FAA’s new drone rules will help farmers and filmmakers but not Amazon or FedEx

Planes must weigh less than 55 pounds, including cargo, and remain within view of their operator.

A DJI Phantom 3 Pro, flying near a wind farm in Germany. Sean Gallup/Getty

A series of new rules on drones will open the way for broader commercial use but will keep some futuristic applications — like long-distance package delivery — grounded for now.

Until the approval of the current rules, those wanting to use drones commercially had to get an exemption on a case-by-case basis from the FAA. The new series of rules allow some business uses for drones that weigh less than 55 pounds, including any cargo.

Key among the new rules is the requirement that commercial drones remain within the line of sight of the operator, who must be either an approved pilot or under the supervision of one.

The FAA also limits drone flights to daylight hours and requires that the drones not fly over people not involved in the flight. An earlier set of rules covers consumer use of drones, requiring owners to register their device with the FAA.

Leading drone maker DJI praised the rules, which it says will open up new uses in mapping, TV production, agriculture and many other areas.

“This is a watershed moment in how advanced technology can improve lives, as the [new rule] allows companies, farmers, researchers and rescue services alike to explore how drones can let them do more at a lower cost and a lower risk,” DJI Vice President of Policy Brendan Schulman said in a statement. “After years of work, DJI and other advocates for reasonable regulation are pleased that the FAA now has a basic set of rules for integrating commercial drone operations into the national airspace.”

The safety issues are not just theoretical, with the FAA reporting more than 500 drone-related incidents, ranging from aircraft operating in restricted space to more than a few close calls involving drones and commercial aircraft.

The tech industry has been pushing for federal rules rather than a patchwork of state and local legislation governing drone use.

“Drones have the power to save lives and help millions of people across the country,” said Consumer Technology Association technology policy VP Douglas Johnson. “But the growing tangle of misaligned, conflicting rules at the state and local levels threatens to choke this nascent technology. To fully realize drones' remarkable economic potential ... state lawmakers and local officials must defer to federal rules.”

The trade group said it expects sales of more than 2.8 million drones this year, up 149 percent from last year, with revenue hitting $953 million, or more than double that of 2015.

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