In the last few weeks, both houses of Congress have released draft FAA Reauthorization bills to continue FAA funding which runs out this fall. While the House bill’s proposal to privatize air traffic control in the United States has garnered the most attention, both the House and Senate bills contain lengthy and significant legislative language that could have a dramatic effect on commercial and hobbyist drone operations in the United States.  Below is a brief summary of the main UAS provisions in both the House and Senate version of the bill.  We are closely tracking this legislation and will keep readers apprised of updates as they occur.

Officially titled the 21st Century Aviation Innovation, Reform, and Reauthorization (AIRR) Act, the House FAA Reauthorization Bill includes the following UAS highlights:

  • UAS Traffic Management (UTM) System: Directs the FAA to initiate rulemaking within 18 months to establish procedures for issuing air navigation facility certificate to operators of low-altitude UTM systems. Similar to the “Section 333” process in the FAA Modernization and Reform Act of 2012, the bill directs the FAA to consider whether UTM systems posing the least amount of risk to the National Airspace System or the public could safely operate now, and if so, to establish requirements for their safe operation in the National Airspace System.
  • Risk-Based Permitting Process: Establishes a risk-based permitting process to authorize UAS operations that meet certain safety standards. This section of the bill is a holdover from the House’s proposed Bill last year and was obviously drafted prior to the enactment of the FAA’s Small UAS Rule (Part 107).
  • Small UAS Air Carrier Certificate: Establishes an air carrier certificate for operators of small UAS for package delivery.
  • Beyond Visual Line of Sight (BVLOS) Operations at FAA Test Sites: Extends the FAA test site program and directs the FAA to permit and encourage BVLOS flights of UAS equipped with sense-and-avoid technology at test sites.
  • UAS Privacy Review: Requires a DOT study on the privacy implications of UAS operations.
  • UAS Registration: Directs the DOT Inspector General to assess the FAA’s small UAS registration system and requires FAA to develop and track metrics to assess compliance with and effectiveness of the system.
  • Study the Role of State and Local Governments: Directs the DOT Inspector General to study the potential roles of state and local governments in the regulation and oversight of low-altitude small UAS operations.
  • Pay-to-Play: Requires the Comptroller General to study appropriate fee mechanisms to recover the costs of regulation and oversight of UAS and the provision of air navigation services to UAS.

The Senate also released its own version of the draft FAA Reauthorization Bill, which includes the following UAS provisions:

  • New Privacy Policy Requirement: Requires commercial UAS operators to have a publically available written privacy policy that describes how they collect, use, retain, disseminate and delete any data collected with the UAS.  Newsgatherers using UAS would be exempt from the requirement.
  • New Database of Commercial and Governmental UAS Operators: Requires the FAA to establish a public database of public and civil (commercial) UAS operators. The database would include the owner/operator’s name, email address, phone number and UAS registration number.
  • Safety Design Standards and New Requirements for UAS Manufacturers:  Directs FAA to charter an aviation rulemaking committee (ARC) to develop design and production standards (consensus safety standards) for small UAS sold in the United States.  In order to sell most small UAS in the U.S. market, manufacturers would be required to certify to the FAA that the small UAS meets the consensus safety standards.
  • Review of Privacy Issues Associated with UAS: Requires the Comptroller General of the United States to conduct and submit to the appropriate committees of Congress a review of the privacy issues and concerns associated with the operation of UAS.
  • UAS Test Sites: Continues test site funding through September 30, 2021.
  • UAS Safety Enforcement: Requires the FAA to establish a program to utilize available remote detection and identification technologies for safety oversight, including enforcement actions against operators of UAS that are not in compliance with applicable federal laws and regulations.
  • Airport Hazard Mitigation and Enforcement: Directs the FAA to work with DoD and DHS to develop, test and deploy counter-UAS systems to mitigate threats from rogue UAS interfering with safe airport operations.
  • Package Delivery: Requires the FAA to issue a final rule authorizing the carriage of property by small UAS for compensation or hire within 1 year.
  • Collegiate Training Initiative: Establishes a Collegiate Training Initiative program to make agreements with institutions of higher education for preparing students for careers involving UAS.
  • Improvements to the Part 107 Waiver Process: Directs the FAA to: (1) publish a representative sampling of safety justifications offered by Part 107 waiver/authorization applicants for each regulation waived or class of airspace authorized and; (2) update the online waiver/authorization portal to provide real time confirmation that an application has been filed and allow applicants to review the status of the application.
  • Study the Role of Federal, State and Local Governments in Regulating UAS: Directs the U.S. Comptroller General to conduct a study and submit a report to Congress on the relative roles of the Federal Government and State and local governments in regulating the national airspace system, including UAS operations.
  • New Criminal Offenses for Unsafe UAS Operations: Establishes criminal penalties for UAS operators that knowingly and willfully interfere with manned aircraft operations or fly within a runway exclusion zone of an airport.

 

 

 

In Europe, the United States and countries around the world, drone technology is advancing rapidly, and what used to be considered toys are quickly becoming powerful commercial tools that can provide enormous benefits in terms of safety and efficiency. However, before some of the most innovative drone applications can become reality, including things like package delivery and long-range infrastructure inspections, most countries, particularly those with more congested airspace, will need some form of a low-altitude traffic management system to ensure drones can avoid colliding with buildings, manned aircraft, or one another.  Developing such a safety system will be critical to unlocking the most promising drone applications of the future.

Last month the Single European Sky Air Traffic Management Research Joint Undertaking (“SESAR“), the organisation set up in 2007 to coordinate European research and development activities on air traffic management (“ATM“), unveiled its blueprint for automated air navigation technologies for low altitude drones operating in complex airspace.

The blueprint fleshes out the European Commission’s plans for a “U Space” – an area of urban airspace up to 150m that is actively managed by technology to allow for “safe, efficient and secure access to [urban] airspace for large numbers of drones.”

The proposal was first announced by Violeta Bulc, the European Commissioner for Transport, at a conference in Warsaw last year.

The Commission hopes that “U Space” will provide similar functions to those provided by the Unmanned Aircraft Systems (“UAS” or drone) Traffic Management (“UTM”) system being developed by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (“NASA”), the Federal Aviation Administration (“FAA”) and global industry partners in the United States for enabling safe, efficient low-altitude drone operations.

What is U-Space, and what does SESAR’s blueprint mean for drone users?

SESAR expects that “U Space” will initially provide a system for the e-registration and e-identification of drones. It also hopes that “U Space” technology will allow certain restricted sites to be geo-fenced by air service navigation providers.

These proposals are not new. On 12 May 2017 the European Aviation Safety Agency (“EASA“) opened its formal consultation into regulatory changes requiring certain UAS to be registered and licensed. You can read our previous blog on that consultation (and the proposed regulatory changes) here.

In the future, SESAR intends for “U Space” to provide flight planning and approval services, drone tracking and “conflict detection” functions as well a means of interfacing UAS traffic management with conventional air traffic control systems.

SESAR hopes that “U Space” when fully operational will “encourage innovation, support the development of new businesses and facilitate the overall growth of the European drone services market.” It also expects that “U Space” technology will allow a number of drone operations that are currently restricted to be liberalised.

When will “U Space” be implemented?

SESAR has divided “U Space” into four implementation phases:

  • Phase 1: providing e-registration, identification and geo-fencing services;
  • Phase 2: providing flight planning and approval services, interfacing with conventional air traffic control, and providing flight tracking and “automated airspace information” services(i.e. warning when cranes are or other temporary obstacles are erected);
  • Phase 3: providing capacity management and conflict detection technologies (SESAR suggests that this will allow for a “significant increase” in UAS operations); and
  • Phase 4: fully integrating drone air traffic control with manned aviation.

The European Commission and SESAR have made clear that they expect “U Space” Phase 1 by the end of 2019; and SESAR has suggested that “pre-operational […] demonstrations” of Phase 2 will also be available by that time. Neither the European Commission nor SESAR have indicated when they expect Phases 3 and 4 to become fully operational.

Drone technology has advanced rapidly over the last decade, and this technology has become a valuable tool for many industries on a global scale.  The commercial and consumer uses for drones have grown exponentially, and the industry is poised to see aggressive growth.

With commercial and hobbyist drones filling our skies, policymakers have increasingly expressed security concerns. How can law enforcement mitigate potential threats? What security concerns do flights over people, beyond visual line of sight, and at night pose – and are there technology solutions that can mitigate security risks and help enable broader operations? How can industry contribute to the federal government policy conversation around domestic drone security? Continue Reading Commercial Drone Alliance Issues Statement on June 28th Domestic Drone Security Summit

Following serious incidents of civilian drones entering the airspace of Chinese airports and causing flight delays last April, China’s civil aviation authority has issued the Real-name Registration of Civil Unmanned Aircraft Administrative Provisions, with effect from May 16, 2017, in an effort to increase accountability for drone use by requiring owners and manufacturers of civilian-use unmanned aircraft systems to complete “real-name” registration procedures. Continue Reading Real-name registration requirement imposed for civilian-use drones in China

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