Author

Graham Keithley

Browsing

On Tuesday, the FAA released a draft Advisory Circular (90-WLCLR), proposing a definition of small UAS staying “well clear” of aircraft during beyond visual line of sight (BVLOS) operations.  The AC will be a useful tool for operators seeking waivers from Part 107 for BVLOS operations as the FAA.  The AC also demonstrates the FAA’s continued efforts to give guidance for operations that exceed the standard operating conditions of Part 107, as the agency continues to draft additional UAS rules to enable greater operational capabilities beyond Part 107, including BVLOS.

The FAA added nine new companies to its Low Altitude Authorization and Notification Capabilities (LAANC) initiative.  The press release is available here.   In addition to the five existing companies, the new companies will provide near real-time authorizations to small commercial drone operators to fly in controlled airspace near 500 airports.  The FAA will open its application process for more LAANC partners in January 2019, and again in July 2019.

Last week, the FAA amended its Compliance and Enforcement Program for enforcement against drone operators that interfere with wildfire response.  This update follows the FAA Extension, Safety, and Security Act of 2016, in which Congress authorized the FAA to penalize individuals up to $20,000 for knowingly or recklessly interfering with wildfire responses.  FAA personnel must send cases to the FAA Chief Counsel’s Enforcement office, signaling that the FAA believes enforcement action is the appropriate deterrent.

On Tuesday, the FAA posted an update in anticipation of the arrival of Hurricane Florence in the Carolinas this week, available here.   Today, the FAA issued an informational press release to drone operators for Hurricane Florence, available here. In addition to storm-related information for commercial airline travelers and Air Traffic Control impacts, the FAA warns drone operators that interfering with emergency responses may result in fines exceeding $20,000 and civil penalties.  Although drone operators should…

On July 20, 2018, the FAA issued a press release to clarify its position on federal preemption of state and local laws relating to unmanned aircraft systems (UAS).  The brief release reminds states and municipalities that they are preempted from regulating aircraft operations, including flight paths, altitudes, or navigable airspace.  On the other hand, however, the FAA acknowledges that states and local governments have the power to regulate landing sites for drones through their land use powers. 

On July 11, 2018, DOT’s General Counsel and FAA’s Chief Counsel sent a stern response to the Uniform Law Commission’s (ULC) draft model tort laws for drones, claiming that the ULC had created an “incorrect impression” that their agencies concurred with the model rules and requested the ULC strike any reference to ULC’s contacts with DOT and FAA counsel. Although the agencies deny that they have taken an official position on the relationship between Federal regulation and State and local authority over drones, the letter explains that the FAA’s State and local drone law guidance does not support ULC’s suggested per se exclusion zone up to 200 feet.  The FAA goes so far as to raise “decades of established precedent” would conflict with ULC’s proposed rule and that Federal courts have rejected the notion of applying traditional trespass law to aircraft overflights.

The letter highlights the increasing uncertainty of federal preemption over airspace laws as tensions between new federal, State, and local drone laws grow. Operators, on the other hand, want a settled legal landscape in which to operate.  The drone industry should closely follow the development of ULC’s model rules, which may be the precursor to future State and local rules and play an important role in defining the future relationship of federal, State, and local regulation of drones.

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.

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. 

As the California wildfires grow with devastating impacts on human life, property, and business, the potential unmanned aircraft system (UAS or drone) benefits and risks for firefighting (re)emerge.  UAS stakeholders, including firefighters, are realizing the potential life-saving and fire response applications of UAS.  Meanwhile, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) and local emergency services remain on high alert for UAS that pose a risk to emergency responses.