In a ruling issued today, the the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit vacated the FAA’s Registration Rule for small unmanned aircraft systems (UAS or drones) that are operated for recreational purposes, otherwise known as “model aircraft.” If the ruling stands, hobbyist and recreational drone enthusiasts will no longer be required to register their drones with the FAA.  The ruling does not affect existing requirements for commercial operators to register their UAS with the FAA. Continue Reading BREAKING: DC Court of Appeals Strikes Down FAA Drone Registration Rule for Hobbyists

On 12 May 2017 the European Aviation Safety Agency (“EASA“) opened a consultation into sweeping new regulations on the operation of unmanned aircraft systems (“UAS” or drones) in European airspace. Individuals and companies that are interested in the future of UAS operations in the European Union (“EU”) should carefully review the Notice of Proposed Amendment and consider participating in the review process by submitting comments and letting EASA know their views on all aspects of the proposed regulations.

Under the current regulations, EASA only regulates large UAS with a maximum take-off weight of 150kg or more and the regulation of UAS with a maximum take-off weight of less than 150 kg is reserved to Member States. The European Commission and European Parliament are currently trying to extend the EU’s regulatory competences (jurisdiction) to include authority over all UAS weighing more than 250g. EASA’s new proposal will likely spur debate among industry stakeholders over whether this new and innovative technology should be regulated more broadly by EASA or by the individual Member States.    Continue Reading New EASA Consultation: Are Drone Pilots Heading for a Period of Regulatory Turbulence?

Part 107, the rule broadly authorizing commercial UAS (drone) operations, was an important step forward for the commercial UAS industry.  However, Part 107 limited operations in important ways.  One significant limitation surrounds flights over people.  Under current FAA regulations, flights over people other than the UAS flightcrew are prohibited.  This prohibition creates significant obstacles for commercial UAS operators, especially those that typically need to occur in more urban and suburban environments, such as media and newsgathering activities, real estate, infrastructure inspection and, someday, package delivery, will require the flexibility to operate over people. Continue Reading New FAA-Commissioned Report on Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS) Human Collision Hazards May Support Broader Approval for UAS Flights Over People

Germany has introduced a new “Regulation for the Operation of Unmanned Aircraft Systems” (“Drone-Regulation“). On 7 April 2017, the new Drone-Regulation entered into force adapting national legislation to the risk-based approach of the European Union and setting the way for innovative technologies. However, the new rules also contain identification and qualification obligations as well as strict authorisation requirements for specific operations of Unmanned Aircraft Systems (“UAS”).

Some aspects of Germany’s new UAS regulations parallel the Federal Aviation Administration’s (“FAA”) Small UAS Rule (Part 107) that went into effect in the United States last August. Similar to the rules adopted by the FAA, Germany’s new UAS regulations place general restrictions on operating UAS beyond visual line of sight (“BVLOS”) and limit operations over people. Notably, however, Germany’s new regulations also provide a pathway for authorizing more advanced commercial UAS operations that go beyond the scope of the regulations in circumstances where it is safe to do so. This is similar to the waiver process adopted by the FAA in Part 107 for authorizing operations beyond the scope of the rule. Continue Reading Sky full of drones – Germany opens up for new drone opportunities as it introduces its new UAS Regulation

White House Open to Stakeholder Meetings about Drone Operations Over People

In a major new development, the FAA has just sent to the White House Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs (OIRA) the proposed rulemaking for performance-based standards and means-of-compliance for the operation of small unmanned aircraft systems (UAS, or so-called “drones”) over unsheltered people not directly participating in the operation.

This is big news and an important step in moving drone policymaking forward. As most of you likely know, the current Part 107, which went into effect in August, does not allow for flights over unsheltered people not directly participating in the operation – in other words, anyone other than your remote pilot, visual observer, or anyone else essential to the flight operation. Continue Reading Big News: Proposed Small UAS Rule for Flights Over People at White House for Review

The split of competences between the European Union (“EU”) and its Member States has been a point of friction in the setting out of the future European rules on unmanned aircraft system (“UAS”). In December 2015, the European Commission advocated in its Aviation Strategy for the need for a common regulatory framework across the EU to ensure a single European UAS market. The European Aviation Safety Agency (“EASA”), headquartered in Cologne (Germany), would play a crucial role in defining the common European standards. Continue Reading The European Parliament pushes for an EU-wide regulation for UAS

On September 21, Hogan Lovells’ Unmanned Aircraft Systems lawyers Lisa Ellman, Patrick Rizzi, Matthew Clark, and Elizabeth Meer presented a webinar on Drones on Campus: Navigating the FAA’s New Small UAS Rule.

Colleges and universities across the country are finding new and innovative ways to use unmanned aircraft or “drones.” To name just a few, higher education institutions are using drones to support research and learning in areas like precision agriculture, wildlife habitat monitoring, and aerial surveying and mapping. They are using drones to film football practices, inspect their infrastructure, and shoot promo marketing videos. Continue Reading Drones on Campus: Navigating the FAA’s New Small UAS Rule

We are at a watershed moment in aviation history. As we reported yesterday, the FAA and DOT finally released their Final Rule for the Operation and Certification of Small UAS (Part 107), which will broadly authorize commercial UAS operations in the U.S.

With the release of Part 107, many Section 333 Exemption holders are left wondering how Part 107 will impact their exemptions. And for the 7,000+ petitioners stuck in the FAA’s backlog of pending Section 333 petitions and amendments, many are wondering what the FAA will do with these pending petitions.

Current Section 333 Exemption / COA Holders

Do you currently have a Section 333 Exemption? If so, your exemption is still valid and you may continue to operate under it until it expires (usually 2 years from the date of issuance). Once Part 107 becomes effective (in mid- to late August of this year), you may continue operating under the conditions and limitations of your Exemption / COA, or you may elect to operate under Part 107. Continue Reading A New Regime: Making the Jump from Section 333 UAS Operations to Part 107

The commercial UAS industry in the U.S. took a giant leap forward yesterday, as DOT and FAA released its Final Rule for the Operation and Certification of Small UAS (Part 107). At 624 pages long, there is certainly a lot to digest and we will be following up with more analysis of Part 107 throughout this week and next. For the time being, we wanted to provide you with a high-level overview of Part 107 and to identify a few areas where the FAA surprised us (mostly in a good way).

Timeline for Implementation

Part 107 will become effective 60 days after it is officially published in the Federal Register in the next 5-7 days making August the next milestone date for our industry.

Operator Certification

As a threshold matter, we would note that the FAA determined that calling the individual operating the UAS the “operator” might be confusing, so the person operating the UAS will now be referred to as the “Remote Pilot.” The Remote Pilot Certificate will replace current requirements to hold a manned pilot’s license, which is one of the biggest hurdles to operating UAS commercially under a Section 333 Exemption. Continue Reading Huge News: FAA/DOT Release Small UAS Rule

Colleges and universities across the country are finding new and innovative ways to use drones in the classroom.  To name just a few, institutions of higher education are using drones to support research and learning in areas like precision agriculture, wildlife habitat monitoring, and aerial surveying and mapping.

While speaking at the AUVSI annual conference in New Orleans this morning, FAA Administrator Michael Huerta announced the release of a new Legal Interpretation that will expand the scope of permissible UAS operations by students and educational institutions.  The FAA’s principal conclusions are:

  1. A person may operate an unmanned aircraft under the carve-out for hobbyist operators in Section 336 of the FAA Modernization and Reform Act of 2012 (FMRA) at educational institutions and community-sponsored events provided that the person is (a) not compensated or (b) any compensation received is neither directly nor incidentally related to that person’s operation of the aircraft at such events.
  2. A student may conduct model aircraft operations in accordance with section 336 of the FMRA in furtherance of his or her aviation-related education at an accredited educational institution.
  3. Faculty teaching aviation-related courses at accredited educational institutions may assist students who are operating a model aircraft under section 336 and in connection with a course that requires such operations, provided that the student maintains operational control of the model aircraft such that the faculty member’s manipulation of the model aircraft’s controls is incidental and secondary to the student’s.

The FAA cautioned that a faculty member engaging in the operation of an unmanned aircraft, as part of professional duties for which he or she is paid, would not be engaging in a hobby or recreational activity.  Similarly, a student operating UAS for research on behalf of a faculty member is associated with the faculty member’s professional duties and compensation and, thus, is not hobby or recreational use by the student pursuant to section 336.  Faculty and students in these situations would need to seek and obtain authorization from the FAA.

The FAA also concluded, however, that limited instructor involvement in student operation of UAS as part of coursework does not automatically make the flight non-hobbyist or commercial in nature. This would include courses at accredited institutions where the operation of the unmanned aircraft is not the primary purpose of the course (for example, using drones as part of an agricultural science class).  This exception for limited instructor involvement would not extend to classroom courses where the primary purpose of the class is UAS flight instruction.

While the new Legal Interpretation won’t eliminate the need to seek and obtain authorization from the FAA for all UAS flight activities at educational institutions, the announcement is welcome news and a step in the right direction for expanding drone use in academia.