Billion dollar industry ready to launch

FRESNO, Calif. (KFSN) -- The buzz is building and an entire industry is ready for liftoff as new rules could clear the way for the commercial use of drones. Billions of dollars are at stake in the battle for businesses to use drones.

Safety and privacy concerns have kept drones grounded for quite a while now, but that could end soon. Farmers, real estate agents, and wedding photographers are among the big winners. Amazon and pizza places -- like Me-N-Ed's -- look like losers.

Chris Geiger's love of aircraft and his love of photography intertwined almost three years ago.

"I can touch the screen and move the camera independently of the aircraft," he said as he maneuvered a drone through the skies over Clovis.

His drones have given firefighters the ability to find hot spots from the top of tall structures and they've given men the ability to propose marriage after a dramatic delivery. But Geiger hasn't been able to use his drones for profit for quite a while.

That's about to change, though, as the Obama administration pushes for new rules to get commercial drones back in the air. The first suggested guidelines call for only drones under 55 pounds. The FAA says the operator doesn't need a pilot's license, but should pass a written test and a TSA screening.

"They don't want people using these to fly dangerous activities, so they want to know who's doing it and they want to keep track of those people and make sure they're not on any watch lists," said Geiger.

Businesses can fly drones no higher than 500 feet, only during the day, and only line of sight flying. In other words, you have to be able to see the aircraft you're flying. The restrictions are designed to avoid collisions and terrorism, while allowing drones to perform the same work otherwise dangerously done by manned aircraft.

"People have died doing aerial photography from full-sized aircraft - helicopters and airplanes," Geiger said. "Those deaths may be reduced significantly."

The line of sight requirement would rule out deliveries by drone, which Amazon has heavily invested in. The FAA has heard their concerns and a spokesman says these regulations aren't the last word. It could take a couple years to get the rules approved.

Copyright © 2019 KFSN-TV. All Rights Reserved.