The Federal Aviation Administration is taking new steps to accommodate advanced drone technology widely viewed as necessary for package delivery, an official said on Wednesday.

In written testimony to a House aviation subcommittee, FAA Deputy Administrator Michael Whitaker said the regulatory agency and partners including industry players have demonstrated technology that would enable drones to detect and avoid aircraft and other objects automatically as well as radio controls.

Experts say detect-and-avoid and radio command-and-control technologies would be necessary for drones to fly autonomously over long distances as part of the national airspace. The FAA has proposed new regulations for commercial drone use. But the proposed rules include restrictions that could limit commercial applications including provisions requiring unmanned aerial systems (UAS) to fly within an operator’s line of sight and during daylight hours only. A final version of the regulations is expected early next year.

“We are already looking beyond the small UAS rulemaking at what comes next in terms of the types of operations expected and what technologies we may need to certify to ensure safety,” wrote Whitaker, who was scheduled to testify before the House Transportation Subcommittee on Aviation.

The FAA has been under pressure to accelerate the arrival of commercial drone operations from industry lobbyists and lawmakers who say the United States has fallen behind developments overseas. The agency has already expanded its approval of commercial operations on a case-by-case basis and has partnered with companies to test beyond-visual-line-of-flight operations.

Amazon.com and Google hope to use autonomous drones to deliver packages to customers who live miles (kilometers) from product distribution centers.

Whitaker said FAA officials have recently consulted with an outside advisory committee to determine new areas of focus “so we can enable those UAS operations with the highest new societal benefits.”

(Reporting by David Morgan; Editing by Bernard Orr)

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