Yesterday, the Department of Transportation (“DOT”) published details of the new Unmanned Aircraft System (“UAS” or “drone”) Integration Pilot Program (“Program”) in the Federal Register. The White Office of Science and Technology Policy launched this Program to encourage State, local, and tribal governments to collaborate with private industry on innovative UAS operations. The Program is the most significant change in UAS regulation by the Trump Administration and could lead to unprecedented opportunities for companies to test drone applications that were previously restricted.
But time is of the essence—communities and companies must move quickly to avail themselves of the new UAS opportunities. We encourage any interested parties to begin developing a plan and submit a Notice of Intent with the Federal Aviation Administration (“FAA”) in the coming weeks. Details of the Program are explained below and are available in the Federal Register Notice.
The White House unveiled a highly anticipated Drone Integration Pilot Program (“Program”) that will allow state and local government to test different models for low-altitude regulation of drones, also known as unmanned aircraft systems (“UAS”). The Program represents a significant break from the Federal Aviation Administration’s (“FAA”) previous position to discourage state and local government involvement in most aspects of UAS operations and is designed to encourage private entities to undertake innovative UAS testing in the United States, such as drone package delivery. It will create more opportunities for cutting-edge commercial UAS flights for communities and operators, but the FAA and commercial aviation will likely continue to resist expanded operations that pose safety risks, including flights near airports.
Earlier this month, a small commercial airplane collided with an unmanned aircraft system (“UAS” or drone) during its final descent into Jean Lesage International Airport in Quebec City, Canada. After numerous near-misses, this was the first confirmed collision between a drone and a commercial aircraft in North America. The incident has renewed UAS safety and enforcement concerns, but also highlights opportunities and tools necessary to further improve the system.
Today, a federal judge struck down a Newton, Massachusetts, ordinance regulating drone operations in the city, holding that the ordinance was preempted based on Federal Aviation Administration (“FAA”) regulations and federal statutes. Saying the ordinance “essentially constitutes a wholesale ban on drone use” and was an “interven[tion] in the FAA’s careful regulation of aircraft safety,” District Judge William G. Young reaffirmed the FAA’s broad jurisdiction over drones (also known as unmanned aircraft systems or “UAS”) in national airspace.
Following a public debate regarding the lack of authority for the U.S. military to take down civilian unmanned aircraft systems (also known as drones or “UAS”) over bases—see previous UAS Insights coverage here—the Department of Defense (“DOD”) released new guidance providing additional authority for military bases to protect themselves from potentially threatening drone operations. This new authority again highlights the complicated legal issue of drone defenses, Federal Aviation Administration’s (“FAA”) enforcement of airspace regulations, and the desire of certain entities to prevent UAS overflights.