The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) said it would work with two private U.S. companies to test commercial drones that can fly beyond an operator's line of sight, a precursor to sophisticated drone operations such as package delivery, according to Reuters.
The separate partnerships, with drone maker PrecisionHawk and BNSF Railway Co, a railroad operator owned by Warren Buffett's Berkshire Hathaway Inc., are a potential milestone in developing unmanned aircraft for a variety of business applications.
The U.S. aviation regulator also announced on Wednesday a partnership with cable television news network CNN to test news gathering in urban areas that have been largely off limits for commercial drones.
The FAA has been under intense pressure from industry and Congress to allow beyond-line-of-sight operations. It has heard from companies ranging from Amazon.com Inc and Google Inc, which are developing drones that can deliver packages, to energy and agriculture firms that want to use the devices for inspecting crops or pipelines.
Reuters first reported last week that the FAA is in talks with drone manufacturers and operators about testing beyond-line-of-sight drone systems, and an announcement is expected as soon as this week.
"We anticipate receiving valuable data from each of these trials that could result in FAA-approved operations in the next few years," said FAA Administrator Michael Huerta, who announced the partnerships at a drone industry convention in Atlanta.
"Integrating unmanned aircraft into our airspace is a big job, and it's one the FAA is determined to get right," he said in comments released by the agency in Washington.
The agency proposed rules in February that would lift a near-ban on companies using drones as part of their business operations. The FAA has also been granting permission for commercial drone use on a case-by-case basis since last September.
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