Prediction: 600K Commercial Drones in US by End of Year After new safety rules put into place By Newser Editors and Wire Services Posted Aug 29, 2016 4:04 PM CDT 25 comments Comments In this Jan. 7, 2016, file photo, a drone hovers at a booth during CES International, Thursday, Jan. 7, 2016, in Las Vegas. (AP Photo/John Locher, File) (Newser) – Federal aviation officials estimate there will be 600,000 commercial drone aircraft operating in the US within the year as the result of new safety rules that opened the skies to them on Monday, the AP reports. Michael Huerta, head of the Federal Aviation Administration, said at a news conference that the rules governing the operation of small commercial drones are designed to protect safety without stifling innovation. Commercial operators initially complained that the new rules would be too rigid. The agency responded by creating a system to grant exemptions to the rules for companies that show they can operate safely. Huerta said the FAA had already granted 76 exemptions, most of them to companies that want to fly drones at night.