A broad funding bill for the Federal Aviation Administration, which was released this week and is expected to win final approval before the middle of February, for the first time establishes specific deadlines designed to speed up the widespread use of unmanned planes, or drones, across the U.S.
On Friday, the House passed the package in a 248-169 vote.
The bill calls for integrating a wide range of so-called unmanned aerial vehicles—operated by both governmental and corporate entities—with commercial and general aviation traffic across the nation’s skies by September 2015.
Perhaps best known for their use in combat abroad, unmanned aircraft currently can fly only in restricted areas over the U.S. That has kept their numbers low.
Most are operated by federal agencies for law-enforcement or security purposes. But under the FAA bill, proponents envision huge fleets of drones operated nationwide by states, local governments and companies.
More on the consequences of the bill here.