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.”
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.