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).
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 →
On June 22, 2017, U.S. Senators Mark R. Warner (D-VA), John Hoeven (R-ND), Catherine Cortez Masto (D-NV) and Dean Heller (R-NV) introduced bi-partisan legislation designed to advance the development of unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) and build on the Federal Aviation Administration’s (FAA) efforts to safely integrate them into the National Airspace System. The Safe Development, Research, and Opportunities Needed for Entrepreneurship Act of 2017, or Safe DRONE Act of 2017, is meant to ensure that the United States is able to keep pace in the development and implementation of unmanned technology. The proposed legislation comes just after UAS industry stakeholders indicated that more regulation would be essential to propelling UAS development forward.
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).
In the FAA Extension legislation, Congress implemented important safety provisions related to drones (also known as unmanned aircraft systems or “UAS”). The language, which President Obama signed into law late last week, addresses UAS operations involving airports, critical infrastructure, and emergency response.
This week’s news includes the continued rise of drone usage pretty much everywhere; a “drone freeze ray”; privacy issues around the shooting down of a drone; and other recent developments in UAV regulations and usage around the globe.
Last month, India’s Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA) published draft guidelines (Guidelines) as a basis for regulating the civil use of Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS), more commonly called drones. The proposed regulations state that “operations of civil unmanned aircraft in controlled airspace are restricted,” though this is India’s first step to permit the use of UAS in the national airspace.
On April 19, the United States Senate passed bipartisan legislation that would reauthorize federal funding for the Federal Aviation Administration for the next two fiscal years. The Senate-passed bill, which will not take effect until the House and Senate negotiate a compromised legislation and the President signs the resulting legislation into law, includes a comprehensive regulatory regime for unmanned aircraft systems (UAS).