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 Unmanned Aircraft Systems Identification and Tracking Aviation Rulemaking Committee (ARC), chartered earlier this year, was unable to reach a consensus on key issues. Given that Michael Huerta, Administrator of the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), described the committee’s work as fundamental for allowing operations over people and operations beyond the visual line-of-sight (BVLOS), the committee’s inability to reach a consensus could mean further delay in the necessary regulation that would allow for these operations.
What Is the ARC and What Was It Supposed to Do?
As rules and regulations stand currently, the interim rule entitled “Registration and Marking for Small Unmanned Aircraft” does not include provisions for identifying small aircraft during operations. The FAA recognized that having a remote identification process could provide value in terms of public safety and the safety of the National Airspace System (NAS), so it chartered the ARC on May 4, 2017. The ARC was designed to inform the FAA on the available technologies for remote identification and tracking, shortfalls in available standards, and to make recommendations for how remote identification may be implemented. As of June, the committee had more than 70 members representing a variety of interested stakeholders including representatives from the UAS industry, UAS manufacturers, local law enforcement, and more. Continue reading →
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 →
Last month marked the second meeting of the Federal Aviation Administration’s (FAA) Drone Advisory Committee (DAC). The meeting was held in Reno, Nevada and offered DAC members their first substantive opportunity to address a wide variety of issues related to the unmanned aircraft systems (UAS or drones), including preemption, access to airspace, and funding UAS integration. Continue reading →
The European Union (EU) is on the verge of revising its regulations for unmanned aircraft systems (UAS or “drones”) operations in Europe. The revisions will shift the regulation of UAS away from EU Member States to the European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA), as well as incorporate a risk and performance-based approach for UAS regulation. Continue reading →
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 →
A federal court upheld the Federal Aviation Administration’s (FAA) subpoenas of a 19-year-old Connecticut drone operator in relation to YouTube videos showing two drones (also known as unmanned aircraft systems or UAS) modified to carry a flamethrower and a handgun. This decision further affirms the FAA’s broad enforcement authority over UAS, but it also highlights the common legal confusion over the precise boundaries of FAA regulation.
After two videos (linked here and here) depicting “weaponized” UAS garnered significant attention on YouTube, the FAA began an investigation into their ownership and development. As part of that investigation, the FAA issued administrative subpoenas to Austin Haughwout and his father Bret Haughwout, asking for depositions, records, video, photographs, and receipts related to the two UAS. The Haughwouts refused to comply with the subpoenas and instead challenged the FAA’s authority to enforce the subpoenas in federal court.
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.
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 →