Dan Elwell, the Acting Administrator of the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), delivered the keynote speech opening the Interdrone conference earlier this month. His remarks predictably emphasized a concern for safety. He mentioned a number of regulatory hurdles facing the unmanned aircraft systems (UAS or drone) industry, namely remote identification and unmanned traffic management (UTM). He also mentioned privacy and public opinion very briefly in his speech. But how close are we to finding workable solutions to these problems? Expected legislation may help to address some of these concerns, but the UAS industry will still need more in order to fully integrate into the National Airspace System (NAS).
The Unmanned Aircraft Systems Identification and Tracking Aviation Rulemaking Committee (ARC), chartered earlier this year, was unable to reach a consensus on key issues. Given that Michael Huerta, Administrator of the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), described the committee’s work as fundamental for allowing operations over people and operations beyond the visual line-of-sight (BVLOS), the committee’s inability to reach a consensus could mean further delay in the necessary regulation that would allow for these operations.
What Is the ARC and What Was It Supposed to Do?
As rules and regulations stand currently, the interim rule entitled “Registration and Marking for Small Unmanned Aircraft” does not include provisions for identifying small aircraft during operations. The FAA recognized that having a remote identification process could provide value in terms of public safety and the safety of the National Airspace System (NAS), so it chartered the ARC on May 4, 2017. The ARC was designed to inform the FAA on the available technologies for remote identification and tracking, shortfalls in available standards, and to make recommendations for how remote identification may be implemented. As of June, the committee had more than 70 members representing a variety of interested stakeholders including representatives from the UAS industry, UAS manufacturers, local law enforcement, and more. Continue reading →
Last week US District Judge William G. Young ruled in favor of Dr. Singer in Singer’s lawsuit against the city of Newton, MA (Newton) challenging portions of the city’s local unmanned aircraft systems (UAS or drone) ordinance. With the continued proliferation of state and local drone laws, the case drew a considerable amount of attention, with some even contending that the ruling “establishes a rock solid affirmation that the federal government unequivocally holds jurisdiction over the drone industry.” While the ruling does bode well for proponents of federal preemption in the UAS space and can be interpreted as a solid first step, its impact is limited.
What was at Issue Here?
On December 19, 2016, Newton passed an ordinance regulating UAS operations within the city. The ordinance was designed to allow beneficial uses of drones while protecting the privacy of residents throughout the city, and was intended to be read and interpreted in harmony with all relevant rules and regulations of the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA). Dr. Michael Singer, a Newton resident and certified small unmanned aircraft system (sUAS) pilot who owns and operates multiple drones, filed suit against the city challenging four provisions of the ordinance. Dr. Singer claimed that the registration requirements in section (b) and the operation limits of subsections (c)(1)(a), (c)(1)(b), and (c)(1)(e) were both field and conflict preempted by federal law. Judge Young determined that all four provisions were conflict preempted thus striking down those portions of the ordinance. Continue reading →
In late June, both chambers of Congress introduced their own versions of a Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) Reauthorization bill. With Congress in recess for the remainder of August and the current FAA extension expiring at the end of September, it appears increasingly unlikely that either bill will make it to the President’s desk. If Congress is unable to pass a full FAA Reauthorization bill, then it will need to pass an extension. Given the unique needs of the Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS or drone) industry, the extension could include some of the common elements addressed in both the House and Senate Reauthorization bills. Continue reading →
The Trump Administration has proposed that Air Traffic Control (ATC) functions be shifted away from the FAA to a nonprofit, nongovernmental organization, arguing that the move would allow for increased efficiency particularly in terms of modernization by changing the ATC system from radar-based to satellite-based. If adopted, this plan could accelerate the safe integration of unmanned aircraft systems (UAS or drones) into our national airspace system (NAS).
On May 19, 2017, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit issued its opinion in John Taylor v. Michael Huerta striking down the Federal Aviation Administration’s Registration Rule, which required the owners of small unmanned aircraft operated for recreational purposes to register with the FAA. (See Registration Rule announcement and full text of the rule.) The Registration Rule was effective on December 21, 2015, but only applied to small unmanned aircraft (UAS) used for hobby or recreation.
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 →
In the world of unmanned aircraft systems, 2016 will be best remembered for the FAA’s release of its final Part 107 regulations for commercial small UAS operations. (See here for more on Part 107.) However, the beginning of December marks that special time of year—a time for the FAA to turn its focus back to operators of recreational UAS.
Last week, the FAA sent a new proposed rule for operations of sUAS (aka “drones”) over people to the White House Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs (“OIRA”).
Currently, Part 107 for the commercial operation of sUAS prohibits operations above non-participants without a waiver. This new rule would provide relief from current Part 107 operational restrictions and would significantly impact various industries eager to exploit UAS applications, such as news & media coverage, search & rescue, real estate, and construction.
With this new development, the FAA continues to expand the sUAS regulatory framework. A rule for micro-UAS weighing less 4.4 pounds is also in FAA’s direct line of sight.
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 →