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Careful clearance gives the right lift to use of drones in U.S.

A model of a drone on display in

A model of a drone on display in Foley Square in New York in October 2014. Credit: Getty Images / TIMOTHY A. CLARY

Look skyward. You’re soon as likely to see a drone as most anything else. The federal government expects drone sales to increase to 7 million a year by 2020. Already, registered drones outnumber airplanes in the United States. So we welcome the new rules for commercial small drones announced by the Federal Aviation Administration, to accompany last year’s regulations for hobby use.

The rules are sensible. They allow daytime flights under 400 feet at a maximum speed of 100 mph away from airports, and require pilots to be certified and vetted by the Transportation Security Administration. And the devices cannot be flown over someone who is not part of the operation, a nod to safety and privacy. The rules will enable many good uses of drones such as inspecting farms and cellphone towers, creating virtual tours of homes for sale, shooting movies and gathering news.

Some critics carp that a provision that pilots must keep their drones within sight will not allow deliveries planned by tech giants like Amazon and Google. But caution is the right approach. The FAA says more rules are coming, and the prospect of skies filled with delivery drones landing on private property deserves special consideration.

Unfortunately, the new rules will not prevent a dizzying array of often wrongheaded local regulations, such as the one approved this week by Hempstead’s town board. It banned drones over public beaches, golf courses and parks because, the board said, people are entitled to privacy. If there truly is a presumption of privacy at a public beach, the town board should also ban all devices, including cellphones, capable of taking photos.

Drones clearly are part of our present and future. We need clearheaded rules to govern their use, not half-baked flights of fancy.

— The editorial board