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 proliferation of drones, or unmanned aircraft systems (UAS), has resulted in a growing interest in preventing unlawful and potentially dangerous drone operations. Private entities are generally prohibited from taking self-help defensive actions (i.e., shooting down drones) and doing so may result in civil and/or criminal penalties. As the interest in defenses grows, Congress has authorized the FAA to create more No-Drone Zones and funded an FAA pilot program for government defense technologies to protect government assets.
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).
The FAA has released a fact sheet regarding state and local regulation of unmanned aircraft systems (UAS). The FAA advises that state and local restrictions should be consistent with the extensive federal statutory and regulatory framework pertaining to aviation.
In this week’s news, lobbying heats up on the Hill, the FAA releases an app (that the 300,000 owners now on the agency’s registry can use), drones successfully land on moving cars, and other recent developments in UAV regulations and usage around the globe.
This week’s news includes drone registration scams, a study on how jet engines ingest drones, using drones at construction sites, and numerous other recent developments in UAV regulations and usage.
The National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) announced in a blog post today that the first meeting of the multi-stakeholder process to develop best practices regarding privacy, transparency, and accountability in commercial and private UAS operations will take place August 3, 2015.
As we’ve previously posted, the NTIA released a Request for Comments on March 4, 2015, to which it received over 50 responses. These comments will serve to set the agenda for the group’s initial discussions, and the agency anticipates that the process will continue to attract a wide range of stakeholders from industry, civil society, and academia.
The August 3 meeting is open to the public and is scheduled for 1:00-5:00 p.m. EDT in the Boardroom at the American Institute of Architects, 1735 New York Ave. NW, Washington, D.C. 20006.
Subsequent meetings are scheduled to take place at the same time and location on
- September 24, 2015;
- October 21, 2015; and
- November 20, 2015
Those interested in attending can do so in person or through the NTIA-provided webcast and conference phone bridge, and should check the NTIA’s website for additional details as they are released.
Reported by the AP, another unmanned aircraft system (“UAS”) was recently spotted in the vicinity of the White House, prompting a security lock down. This is the first publicly reported UAS incident by the White House since a federal worker crashed his UAS on the White House grounds in January.
Since 2010, the FAA has prohibited all UAS operations – commercial or recreational – in Washington, DC airspace. As explained in the flight restrictions, the FAA may take administrative action for violations, including imposing civil penalties or the suspension and revocation of FAA certificates, and the U.S. Government may pursue criminal charges or use deadly force against the airborne aircraft if it is determined that the aircraft poses an imminent security threat. After the January White House incident, the FAA has also taken efforts to educate the public, launching a “No Drone Zone” public outreach campaign to reinforce the message that Washington, DC and the area within a 15-mile radius of Ronald-Reagan Washington National Airport are off limits to UAS.
Unmanned aircraft systems (“UAS”) have been used to capture dramatic aerial footage of protests in Ukraine, Olympic events in Russia, and earthquake damage in Nepal. In the United States, however, professional journalists are generally limited to using manned aircraft—typically helicopters—to gather aerial photography. But, change is in the air: the FAA is using its more streamlined Section 333 exemption process to allow commercial operation of small UAS (“sUAS”), and now permits the media’s use of UAS photography from citizen journalists. As the news media continues to seek FAA approval and address the FAA’s safety concerns related to UAS newsgathering, they are also looking to address the privacy concerns related to the fast growth of UAS operations and UAS photography.
Media interest groups weighed-in when the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (“NTIA”) sought comments on the design of a multi-stakeholder engagement process to develop best practices for privacy, accountability, and transparency issues regarding commercial and private UAS use. Advocates for UAS journalism are urging the federal government to avoid crafting new technology-specific privacy laws they say would stifle the potential newsgathering benefits of UAS.
Recent security breaches with small unmanned aircraft systems (“sUAS”) have garnered much attention. Last fall, UAS overflew 13 of France’s 19 nuclear power plants in an apparent coordinated fashion. In January, a private UAS crashed onto the lawn of the White House. In April, Japanese security forces found a UAS on the roof of the Japanese prime minister’s office carrying a small camera and a bottle containing radioactive Cesium-137.
Nuclear facility operators now operate sUAS under Federal Aviation Administration (“FAA”) exemptions for beneficial purposes, including electrical facility inspections, but others may operate UAS for destructive and subversive purposes. sUAS could be used to monitor a facility’s security activities, divert security forces’ attention from a second threat to physical security, or carry and release destructive conventional, chemical, biological, or radiological payloads. As sUAS become more popular and less expensive, it is likely that nuclear and other sensitive facilities will face an increasing number of potentially-problematic flyovers. Continue reading →