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In the first six days after the storm hit, the Federal Aviation Administration issued more than 40 separate authorizations for emergency drone activities above flood-ravaged Houston and surrounding areas. They ranged from inspecting roadways to checking railroad tracks to assessing the condition of water plants, oil refineries and power lines.
The total climbed above 70 that Friday and topped 100 by Sunday, including some flights prohibited under routine circumstances, according to people familiar with the details. Industry officials said all of the operations — except for a handful flown by media outlets — were conducted in conjunction with, or on behalf of, local, state or federal agencies.
One person familiar with the details said certain applications were processed within hours, an unusually fast turnaround for federal safety regulators accustomed to days or weeks of analysis for such decisions.
The scope and pace of approvals — advocated by drone proponents as essential tools to help search-and-recovery teams during natural emergencies — likely will boost momentum for longer-term industry and congressional drives to open up more airspace for broader commercial applications.
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