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FAA Exploring New Framework to Greatly Expand Commercial UAS Operations

This week, the FAA established a committee made up of government and industry stakeholders tasked with developing recommendations for new rules to govern the operation of “micro” UAS, which can be operated over people who are not involved in the operation of the UAS. Once released, these rules will permit commercial operators to utilize UAS in applications which have not been previously allowed in the National Airspace System (NAS).

The new aviation rulemaking committee (ARC) will focus specifically on crafting regulations for a new classification of UAS, called micro UAS. As defined by the FAA, micro UAS weigh less than 4.4 pounds and are constructed of materials that will break or yield on impact. The ARC will develop proposed performance-based standards required of micro UAS and suggest additional operating instructions which would permit an operator of a micro UAS to conduct flights over any person.

The committee will begin its work on March 1st and will submit its final report to the FAA on April 1st. The FAA will use the recommendations as the basis for a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking for micro UAS and eventually promulgate a final rule.

The FAA also stated that the current rulemaking regarding small UAS (sUAS)—aircraft which can be as large as 55 pounds—will generally not allow operations over non-participants. Commercial operators of micro UAS will therefore either have to wait until these micro UAS rules are finalized or obtain a separate FAA exemption before they can operate in populated areas.

The new rules for micro UAS will open up a plethora of opportunities that commercial operators have been demanding for years. In fact, Secretary of Transportation Anthony Foxx said that this new classification and rulemaking is a response to the significant industry interest in expanding commercial access to the NAS.

The FAA rulemaking committee will be headed by Earl Lawrence, the director of the FAA UAS Integration office, and Nancy Egan, the general counsel for 3D Robotics, a UAS manufacturer. The agency invited stakeholders in the aviation, UAS, and technology industries to participate in the committee and also invited comments from the public.