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Jennifer Trock

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The FAA recently issued a request for public comment on a policy for the type certification of certain Unmanned Aircraft Systems (“UAS” or “drones”). The policy applies to both large UAS (55 pounds or more) and certain small UAS weighing less than 55 pounds (“sUAS”) operating outside the limitations imposed by 14 CFR Part 107. sUAS operating under Part 107 (or with a waiver under Part 107) are not required to have airworthiness certification, but all other civil UAS must receive airworthiness certification from the FAA or an exemption from such requirements. The FAA specifies UAS used for package delivery as those affected by the policy; type certification for these drones would streamline the process for manufacturing and airworthiness certification, accelerating commercial deployment within the U.S. While the FAA contemplates a future rulemaking, the proposed policy is intended only to provide clarity to the public regarding existing legal requirements and…

On December 26, the FAA released its long-anticipated proposed rule that would require the remote identification (“Remote ID”) of unmanned aircraft systems (“UAS,” or “drones”) in the United States. The proposed rule is an important step in advancing UAS policy-making in the U.S. and addressing emergent safety and security issues, such as close encounters between drones and manned aircraft and unlawful drone operations in places such as airports, military bases, outdoor events and civil infrastructure. As addressing these safety and security issues is critical to the advancement of new and innovative commercial drone applications, UAS stakeholders will wish to comment on the proposed rule and its benefits, burdens, costs, viability and any issues not addressed. The proposed rule had been delayed on three separate occasions, most recently in September, and is viewed by federal authorities and industry stakeholders as a linchpin to further UAS integration and expansion of operations currently…

Last month, the Mexican Ministry of Communications and Transport (Secretaría de Comunicaciones y Transportes) (“SCT”) published a Mexican Official Standard (“NOM-107”) establishing requirements to operate Remotely Piloted Aircraft Systems (“RPAS” – also known as “UAS” or “drones”) in Mexican air space.  NOM-107 classifies RPAS into different categories based on their maximum take-off weight. Regardless of their classification, RPAS may be operated for (a) recreational, (b) private non-commercial, and (c) commercial use. Operators are required to comply with certain requirements depending on the classification and use of the RPAS.  In general terms, all RPAS must be registered before the recently created Federal Civil Aviation Agency (Agencia Federal de Aviación Civil) (“AFAC”), which is charged with enforcing the guidelines to operate RPAS. RPAS used for private non-commercial and commercial purposes must carry civil liability insurance. NOM-107 regulates RPAS for private non-commercial and commercial use differently from RPAS for recreational use. In this…

The Kansas Department of Transportation (KDOT) announced last week that it received approval from the FAA to conduct test flights with unmanned aircraft systems (UAS, or drones) at Wichita’s Dwight D. Eisenhower National Airport (ICT). KDOT will incorporate UAS to assist with obstruction analysis, foreign object detection, wildlife hazard management, and airfield emergency response. The UAS operations are part of the FAA’s UAS Integration Pilot Program, which is intended to accelerate the integration of UAS technology. KDOT is one of ten state and local government entities across the country selected by the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) to participate in the program. Between 2019 and 2021, participants in the program will collect data on advanced types of UAS operations that now require special authorization, such as operations over people, nighttime operations, and package deliveries. This data will aid the DOT and FAA in developing new rules to support more complex…

The U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) announced earlier this month that the long-awaited Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) on remote identification for unmanned aircraft systems (UAS, or drones) has been delayed for a third time. The NPRM is now projected to be issued in December 2019. Remote identification is the ability of a drone to transmit identifying information while in flight to other parties, such as the FAA, federal security agencies, and law enforcement. Current UAS regulations do not provide a way for federal and state authorities to determine a drone’s identification except by physically inspecting the registration number, which often is not possible. As a result, many UAS operations can be conducted anonymously, including those that violate the FAA’s regulations. Remote identification would greatly enhance the ability of state and federal authorities to respond when a drone is flown in an unsafe or unlawful manner. The FAA has described…

In a Notice to Airmen (NOTAM) issued on February 15, 2019, the FAA added more defense-related locations and correctional facilities to the growing list of No-Drone Zones.  The additional No-Drone Zones were requested by the Department of Justice and the Department of Defense and become effective on February 26th.  A list of the new locations is available in FAA’s Press Release, available here, and all No-Drone Zones can be identified in FAA’s UAS Data Display System map online or in FAA’s B4UFLY mobile app. Drone security has become a priority at the FAA.  This month, the FAA released an Advanced Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (ANPRM) regarding the Safe and Secure Operations of Small Unmanned Aircraft Systems, seeking public comments on operational requirements and limitations in Part 107 to reduce unanticipated safety and security risks.  Specifically, the FAA is looking for input regarding stand-off distances; altitude, airspeed, and other performance limitations; unmanned…

In mid-January, U.S. Secretary of Transportation Elaine Chao and the U.S. Federal Aviation  Administration (“FAA”) released a long-awaited proposed rule permitting unmanned aircraft system (“UAS” or “drone”) operations at night and over people. Once the rule is finalized, it will allow commercial operators to fly UAS operations previously restricted under the current Part 107 rules (14 C.F.R. §107) without an individualized waiver from the FAA (14 C.F.R. §107.200).

These rules show that the FAA is advancing from a one-size-fits-all regulatory structure to a more nuanced regime based on risk and safety analyses. For the most part, the rule is not based solely on weight. Instead, it incorporates performance-based requirements to achieve the agency’s safety objectives. Basing UAS restrictions on performance and risk is more consistent with European rules and other countries with advanced UAS regulations.

While the proposed rule represents a step in the right direction, the rule is not likely to be finalized for many months or longer, because the FAA indicated the rule would not be finalized until after the FAA addresses the contentious issue of remote identification of UAS. In the proposed rule—which is expected to be published in the Federal Register next week—the FAA states that it “plans to finalize its policy concerning remote identification of small UAS—by way of rulemaking, standards development, or other activities that other federal agencies may propose—prior to finalizing the proposed changes in this rule.”

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 heed FAA’s warning for safety and compliance reasons, drones can also be an important resource during disaster recovery. Opportunities for drones to help in the recovery of Hurricane Florence will include, among others: Search and rescue operations by local authorities; Insurance assessments for private property damage; and Infrastructure damage assessments. However, the proliferation of drones for recreational and commercial purposes has also posed a challenge to emergency response operations.  The presence of a drone can…