Articles Tagged with FAA

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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”).

The Proposal: Who, What, When and Why

On Monday June 5th, 2017, the President announced that his administration would seek to overhaul the country’s air travel system by privatizing ATC. The proposed plan would create a private, nonprofit corporation that would operate, manage, and control ATC nationwide, in a similar vein to the Canadian system. The FAA would maintain oversight, but a board made up of various stakeholders such as pilots’ unions, representatives of major airlines, and air traffic controller unions, would govern the corporation.

Advocates for this new plan argue that privatization would be a solution to the FAA’s slow pace in upgrading the ATC system, which currently uses radar- and voice-based technology. They also explain that allowing ATC to operate under the federal government means that funding is uncertain, because it gets entangled in political battles over the budget. This uncertainty makes long-term investments in new technology difficult, thus slowing down the modernization process. A new nonprofit entity could implement the satellite-based ATC system, NextGen, more efficiently, because theoretically the nonprofit would be less likely to be subject to these political budget battles.

How Does That Impact Drone Traffic?

Creating a way to safely integrate drones into our NAS is one of the main challenges for expanding commercial drone use, and would specifically facilitate the development of drone delivery. Currently, drone operators must maintain visual line-of-sight at all times and can only fly during daytime, unless the FAA grants a waiver. A shared, nationwide Air Traffic Management (“ATM”) system would allow people, or companies such as Amazon, DHL, or UPS, to operate drones beyond visual-line-of-sight.

A variety of organizations, including NASA and Google’s parent company Alphabet, are already working on ATM systems to integrate drones into the lower airspace system below 400 feet. NASA completed successful tests as part of their three-week Technology Capability Level 2 campaign earlier this month, flying five different drones and demonstrating multiple operational scenarios flown beyond the operator’s visual line-of-sight. Alphabet’s Project Wing tested their new drone traffic control platform at Virginia Tech, successfully tracking the flight paths of multiple drones simultaneously and allowing the drones to automatically steer away from each other without the operator needing to manually avoid collision.

In addition, ATC privatization could positively impact the integration of drones into our NAS by speeding up the process and making it more efficient. For example, the nonprofit entity could contract with companies such as Alphabet or work with NASA to build on the existing ATM progress as opposed to the FAA attempting to build an ATM system of its own.

While privatization could be a positive catalyst for growth in the UAS industry, several concerns remain. It is still unclear whether ATC privatization would equate to increased speed or efficiency. Ultimately, the FAA will retain oversight and will have to dictate rules on beyond visual line-of-sight operations. Further, a private entity may want to see more evidence of demand before investing in integrating drones into the NAS, creating a conundrum. Without beyond visual line-of-sight capability, the UAS industry may find it challenging to demonstrate the level of demand that a private entity would expect for UAS integration to be a priority. This could lead to delayed investment, especially since members of the UAS industry may not be included on the nonprofit entity’s board. Yet, members of Congress have expressed concerns over ATC privatization, and it may never see the light of day. Last week, Democrats on the U.S. House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee introduced legislation to give the FAA more stable funding while rejecting privatization efforts. This step signals that privatization may not make it through the Senate where Democrats have the power to block the measure.

It is understandable for the UAS Industry to be cautiously optimistic about ATC privatization, but it may be too premature to assess how much of an impact it will have on UAS integration. Whether or not privatization can garner enough bipartisan support to make it to the President’s desk is still unclear; and if it does, the FAA will have to address several regulatory hurdles. Considering it took over four years for Part 107 to finally take effect, the idea that ATC privatization will soon clear the way for a UAS ATM system appears unlikely.

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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.

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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 →

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The new Federal Aviation Administration’s (FAA) rules (or Part 107) governing the commercial use of small unmanned aircraft systems (also known as drones or sUAS) took effect on August 29, 2016. The utility and energy industries, which are increasingly using sUAS for operations and maintenance, stand to benefit significantly.  This summer also saw the enactment of the FAA Extension, Safety and Security Act of 2016 (the “Extension Act”). The new law contains two provisions that may ultimately grant the utility and energy sectors an alternative route to operate drones for their own projects while providing an option to prevent other drone operations near their critical facilities. While these provisions may be beneficial for utilities in the future, the FAA has yet to develop the corresponding policies implementing the provisions. Continue reading →

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The Royal Aeronautical Society (RAeS), DC Branch, is hosting a UAS event entitled “Emerging Global Approaches in the Regulation of Commercial UAS.”  The event will take place on September 22, 2016, at 6pm at the British International School in Washington, DC. Continue reading →

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The FAA’s new rule (or Part 107) for small Unmanned Aircraft Systems (also known as sUAS or drones) took effect on Monday, August 29, 2016. Existing Section 333 Exemption holders may choose to continue operating under the terms and conditions of their exemption until it expires or operate under Part 107 as long as they comply with the rule’s limitations.  Whether to operate under a current Section 333 Exemption or Part 107 is the operator’s choice and depends on the nature of the operation. Continue reading →

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The FAA’s new final rule, which will revolutionize commercial operations of small drones (also known as small Unmanned Aircraft Systems or sUAS), will become effective on Monday, August 29, 2016. The FAA is replacing its previous commercial sUAS regime requiring individual, case-by-case adjudications and establishing a broad authority for pilots to operate within certain parameters.

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FAA’s Part 107 regulations create a structure to integrate commercial small unmanned aircraft systems (also known as sUAS or drones) into the National Airspace System (NAS). As part of this structure, the FAA has given the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) a new and potentially time-consuming task: vetting commercial sUAS pilots who do not already have a certificate to operate manned flights. The proliferation of new applications underscores the importance of having an adequately staffed and funded TSA so integration of commercial sUAS is not delayed.

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A key milestone in regulating the commercial use of small unmanned aircraft systems (sUAS), the Federal Aviation Administration’s (FAA) final rule overhauls the current case-by-case exemption regime, establishes an operational framework, and creates a new certification process for commercial sUAS pilots. The new rule creates significant opportunities for a wide range of industries, particularly through its waiver provisions that allow for the approval of commercial sUAS operations outside of Part 107—including nighttime and beyond-visual-line-of-sight (BVLOS) operations. The new rule will take effect in late August. Continue reading →

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Today, the FAA unveiled its final rule for the commercial use of small unmanned aircraft systems (sUAS), also known as drones.  Industries across the country have been waiting eagerly for the release of the new regulations, which provide a mechanism for commercial operation of sUAS.  Previously, commercial operations of UAS were only permitted pursuant to an individual application to the FAA and the case-by-case award of a Section 333 exemption.  The rule will take effect in late August and does not apply to model aircraft. Continue reading →