The Federal Aviation Administration on Wednesday said it would develop drone regulations allowing some unmanned aerial vehicles to fly over public areas, an authorization eagerly sought by a range of industries including real estate and agriculture.
The U.S. aviation regulatory agency, under pressure from Congress and industry to accommodate commercial drones, said it established a new rulemaking committee that would recommend a regulatory framework for such operations by April 1.
Authorization to fly over public areas would be vital to the kind of package delivery services envisioned by Amazon.com Inc and Alphabet Inc's Google. But the new committee would likely focus on smaller UAV used for aerial photography in real estate, agriculture and surveying, industry lobbyists said.
Commercial drone operations are illegal in the United States without specific FAA permission. The agency is expected to release final regulations by late June that would allow for commercial drone flights.
An FAA spokeswoman said the new committee's work was part of a separate effort.
"We recognize the significant industry interest in expanding commercial access to the National Airspace System. The short deadline reinforces our commitment to a flexible regulatory approach," U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx said in a statement.
Lobbyists predicted the process would take years.
The announcement came as lawmakers in Congress consider legislation that would greatly reduce restrictions on smaller or "micro" drones. A six-year FAA authorization bill, which could be weeks away from a vote in the House of Representatives, would exempt drones weighing less than 4.4 pounds (2 kg) from requirements including the need for an operator to acquire a pilot's license.
The FAA said the committee will develop recommendations for performance-based standards for drones that can be operated safely over people and determine how drone makers can comply with the requirements.
The agency will draft a rule making proposal after reviewing the committee's report.