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).
Earlier this month, the FAA clarified the rules for small UAS (“sUAS”) operations in the Washington, D.C. area.
The FAA released a Notice to Airmen (“NOTAM”) effective February 10, outlining the rules for operations in the outer ring of the Special Flight Rules Area (“SFRA”), an area 15 to 30 miles away from Washington, D.C. UAS operations within 15 miles of Washington, D.C. remain prohibited without specific FAA authorization, because that airspace has been designated as National Defense Airspace, under 49 U.S.C. 40103(B)(3).
Commercial sUAS operators must have an FAA section 333 exemption to operate within the outer ring of SFRA airspace between 15 and 30 miles from Washington, D.C., and must comply with the conditions contained therein. Commercial operators must also notify the FAA an hour before operating to provide specific flight information. These same rules to apply to public operations by federal, state or local governments.
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.