Drones are good, yet safety is 'paramount': Former FAA chief

More flying objects could soon be filling the skies, even making deliveries. So will more drones put your safety at risk?

This week, the Federal Aviation Administration granted Amazon.com permission to begin tests of drones outdoors. The retailer wants to use the small aircraft to deliver items from their warehouses right to your doorstep.

In an interview with CNBC's "On the Money," former FAA Administrator Marion Blakey says she supports innovations using the aerial vehicles.

"I'd love to call up and get my prescription delivered to my door, [or] a new book I wanted," Blakey said. "There are great ideas out there."

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The FAA recently released new proposed safety rules to regulate drones -- also called Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS)—within the national airspace. Blakey tells CNBC that the FAA "did a very good job. It took a while, but safety is paramount in terms of the considerations in this rule."

The proposed federal rules call for daytime-only operation. Drones must fly below 500 feet, cannot exceed 100 miles per hour and the unmanned aircraft must remain within the operator's "line of sight."

DJI drone
Source: DJI

Blakey held the top job at the FAA for five years beginning in 2002. Since leaving the FAA , Blakey has led the Aerospace Industries Association since 2007. Drone regulation also falls within her current role, leading an industry group that also has to grapple with the promise and challenges presented by drones.

"Looking at it from an industry perspective, we got a little impatient because we were very keen to see the FAA go ahead and issue a rule about how small UAS can operate in our skies," she said.

UAS developers such as Boeing Insitu and Aurora Flight Sciences are AIA members, along with defense contractors.

No cowboys allowed

Commercial pilots groups, including the Air Line Pilots Association have voiced concerns about sharing airspace with drones, saying the drones pose a danger.

Late last year, the FAA released data on safety incidents involving drones, and the number of near-misses between UAS and aircraft surged.

From February 22nd to November 11th, 193 incidents were reported of civilian drones flying close to airplanes. Pilots reported about 25 drone sightings per month. That's nearly one incident per day—but none that involved fatalities or accidents.

Blakey says the FAA's new drone rules "very much keep them apart from commercial aircraft and regularly scheduled flights…and away from commercial airports." She added, "with those restrictions, we don't think commercial pilots are going to have any real concerns when they look at this carefully."

After the growth in sales of recreational drone by hobbyists, Blakey says she's glad "the FAA has gone ahead with the rulemaking and set the requirements for everyone. Otherwise you get a lot of 'cowboys' out there. A lot of people who think they know what they're doing, but they're operating without rules."

On the Money airs on CNBC Sundays at 7:30 pm, or check listings for air time in local markets.