Last month marked the second meeting of the Federal Aviation Administration’s (FAA) Drone Advisory Committee (DAC). The meeting was held in Reno, Nevada and offered DAC members their first substantive opportunity to address a wide variety of issues related to the unmanned aircraft systems (UAS or drones), including preemption, access to airspace, and funding UAS integration. Continue reading →
Airports around the globe are considering new methods to respond to the proliferation of unmanned aircraft systems (also known as “UAS” or “drones”) and the increased number of near-misses between drones and airplanes. In addition to strengthening its laws to curb such operations, the third busiest airport in the world, Dubai International Airport (DXB), has taken a technological approach to the problem—a sophisticated watchdog drone which can detect other drones flying in the airport’s perimeter and track down the operator’s location. Continue reading →
Think your application for a Part 107 waiver is going to fly through the FAA like a drone? Think again. The FAA is throwing some cold water on these expectations. Earlier this week, the agency issued a Part 107 notice to applicants, reporting it has granted 81 ATC authorizations and issued 36 waivers, but denied 71 waiver requests and 854 airspace authorizations. The agency recommends applicants to review and understand the applicable requirements, and demonstrate solid safety mitigations. Continue reading →
In light of the FAA’s new rule (or Part 107) for small Unmanned Aircraft Systems (sUAS), the Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS) industry has eagerly pushed the U.S. government to initiate testing of drone delivery systems. Although Part 107 suggests the FAA will likely expand the uses of drones, the rule does not allow for such drone applications in the National Airspace System (NAS). Among the various companies expressing interests in using drones to deliver goods, are industry giants Amazon PrimeAir (Amazon) and Google’s parent company, Alphabet. Continue reading →
The new Federal Aviation Administration’s (FAA) rules (or Part 107) governing the commercial use of small unmanned aircraft systems (also known as drones or sUAS) took effect on August 29, 2016. The utility and energy industries, which are increasingly using sUAS for operations and maintenance, stand to benefit significantly. This summer also saw the enactment of the FAA Extension, Safety and Security Act of 2016 (the “Extension Act”). The new law contains two provisions that may ultimately grant the utility and energy sectors an alternative route to operate drones for their own projects while providing an option to prevent other drone operations near their critical facilities. While these provisions may be beneficial for utilities in the future, the FAA has yet to develop the corresponding policies implementing the provisions. Continue reading →
The Royal Aeronautical Society (RAeS), DC Branch, is hosting a UAS event entitled “Emerging Global Approaches in the Regulation of Commercial UAS.” The event will take place on September 22, 2016, at 6pm at the British International School in Washington, DC. Continue reading →
Project applicants and permitting and funding agencies often gather extensive scientific data to support project evaluations under environmental laws such as the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) and Endangered Species Act (ESA). With the implementation the new Small Unmanned Aircraft Systems (sUAS) Rule (Title 107) by the Federal Aviation Administration, the opportunity for industry, government, and non-governmental organizations to collect important environmental data previously unattainable due to safety, expense, or technology constraints is set to expand. These stakeholders are already reaping the benefits of conducting less intrusive and more in-depth wildlife surveys and other biological field work using UAS technology, and Title 107 will increase those opportunities. For a look at some of the latest UAS-assisted research projects by the United States Geological Survey (USGS), see http://rmgsc.cr.usgs.gov/uas/. These projects will broaden government agencies’ understanding of the environment and ability to develop appropriate management or mitigation plans based on reliable data.
As wildfire season heats up in the Western United States, drone (also known as “unmanned aircraft systems” or “UAS”) operations near wildfires have spurred technological advances and prompted a series of state and federal statutory and regulatory changes. From a practical perspective, these new laws can impose harsh penalties for violations—including having drones shot out of the sky. From a legal perspective, these new laws reveal the tension between state and federal regulation of UAS operations and important questions about federal preemption.
UAS operations near wildfires create the potential for collisions with manned firefighting aircraft, such as air tankers and helicopters, because these aircraft fly at significantly lower altitudes than typical manned aircraft operations. Federal Aviation Administration (“FAA”) rules permit UAS operations up to an altitude of 400 feet in most places, but firefighting aircraft often operate at an altitude of 200 feet—creating a dangerous airspace overlap. In 2015, the U.S. Department of the Interior (“DOI”) documented 25 instances of unauthorized UAS operations over or near wildfires in five western states. This summer, nearby UAS operations have grounded firefighting aircraft at wildfires in Arizona’s Tonto National Forest, in Southern Utah and many other states. According to officials in Utah, grounding aircraft slows firefighting efforts and vastly increases the costs.
The FAA’s new final rule, which will revolutionize commercial operations of small drones (also known as small Unmanned Aircraft Systems or sUAS), will become effective on Monday, August 29, 2016. The FAA is replacing its previous commercial sUAS regime requiring individual, case-by-case adjudications and establishing a broad authority for pilots to operate within certain parameters.
Early Adopters and Immeasurable Opportunities
Whether it is helping natural resource companies survey their mines, oil and gas companies monitor their pipelines and inspect their flare stacks, farmers improve crop yields, commercial building inspectors conduct roof inspections, or universities advance scientific research, UAS are capable of saving time, money, and, most importantly, lives. Below is a small list of the industries devising methods to use UAS to increase operational effectiveness, mitigate risk, reduce operating costs, and maximize return on investment.
- Industries that rely on surveying or high-resolution imagery (oil and gas, agriculture, etc.).
- Industries concerned with safety and security—from construction to nuclear power to historic preservation. For example, in Peru archeologists are using UAS to map archeological sites and protect them from vandals.
- Industries interested in delivering goods and services. This includes retailers such as Amazon as well as governmental and nonprofit organizations. For example, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation is funding research into deploying UAS to deliver health care supplies to areas made inaccessible after disasters.
- Industries that want to provide services in areas that are difficult to access or in which infrastructure cannot support ground-based solutions. High altitude, long endurance UAS can be used to provide internet access in remote areas.
A Developing Regulatory Landscape
With the Federal Aviation Administration Modernization and Reform Act of 2012 (FAA Modernization and Reform Act), Congress tasked the FAA with safely integrating UAS into the National Airspace System (NAS) by 2015. The FAA has taken an incremental approach to UAS integration and announced the first rule for commercial operations of sUAS in the national airspace on June 21, 2016. The first major domestic UAS users were public institutions (e.g., public universities) and public agencies, both state and federal. In September 2014, the FAA began permitting commercial sUAS operations by issuing exemptions authorized under Section 333 of the FAA Modernization and Reform Act, commonly referred to as Section 333 exemptions. Section 333 exemptions have been issued to a wide range of industries, including movie production, agricultural, construction, real estate, surveying/photography, and oil/gas. After August 29, 2016, when the sUAS rule takes effect, this special exemption will no longer be required. In the meantime, current Section 333 exemption holders may continue operating under the terms and conditions of the existing until its expiration or conduct operations under Part 107 as long as the operation falls under Part 107. (Check in with us for updates regarding the sUAS rule and Section 333 exemptions.) Part 107 permits commercial operations of sUAS weighing less than 55 pounds as long as pilots abide by the required safety restrictions, including, among others:
- Operations only within visual line of sight (VLOS);
- No operations over non-participants;
- Daytime operations only or civil twilight operations with the appropriate lighting;
- Maximum airspeed of 100 mph; and
- Maximum altitude of 400 feet above ground level or within 400 feet of a structure.
The rule permits the transportation of property for compensation or hire, provided that: the aircraft’s total weight, including payload, weighs less than 55 pounds; the flight is conducted within VLOS; and the flight occurs wholly within the bounds of a state.
The rule requires the sUAS operator to hold a remote pilot airman certificate with an sUAS rating. To attain a remote pilot certificate, the operator must be at least 16 years of age, be vetted by the Transportation Security Administration, either pass an aeronautical knowledge test at an FAA-approved training center or hold a Part 61 pilot certificate, complete a flight review within the previous two years, and complete a sUAS training course.
With this first rule, the FAA has taken a big step toward formally integrating UAS into the NAS. The rules reflect the FAA’s risk-based approach to integrating UAS, addressing commercial operations that pose the least amount of risk with minimal requirements and limitations while leaving the door open for future requirements specific to UAS under 4.4 pounds, also known as “micro” UAS. A waiver mechanism allows the FAA to permit operations outside the Part 107 restrictions, including beyond-visual-line-of-sight and nighttime operations, to be assessed on a case-by-case basis if the applicant can demonstrate that the operation sought can safely be conducted under the terms of a certificate of waiver.
As the FAA continues to shape the UAS regulatory landscape, key privacy, spectrum, environmental, security, and other questions surrounding UAS remain far from resolution. Among the most noteworthy issues is the lack of privacy provisions associated with the operation of drones.
The White House tasked the National Telecommunications and Information Agency with establishing a multistakeholder engagement process to develop and communicate best practices for privacy, accountability, and transparency issues regarding commercial and private UAS use in the NAS. Stakeholders at the May 18, 2016 meeting agreed to conclude the process, and a diverse group of stakeholders came to consensus on a best practices document. The document can be found here.