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U.S. Legislation

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As Congress considers provisions for potential inclusion in a long-term FAA Reauthorization Bill, one piece of legislation in Congress attempts to vastly redefine the relative roles of the federal and state governments.  The Drone Federalism Act of 2017 is a bipartisan bill that would give additional authority to state and local governments to regulate UAS operations below 200 feet and potentially lessen the FAA’s control over certain drone operations.

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.

A short term extension of the Federal Aviation Administration (“FAA”) is probable as Congressional leaders seem unlikely to iron out a compromise on FAA reauthorization bills before the end of September. Committees in each chamber approved separate long-term reauthorization legislation last month, including numerous significant changes to the current unmanned aircraft systems (“UAS”) regulatory regime.  However, these drone provisions may be delayed by the lack of agreement on other manned aviation issues, such as air traffic control privatization and pilot training requirements.  Without a broad consensus on the bill language and with Congress in August recess, Congress is unlikely to pass a substantive reauthorization before the FAA’s current authorization ends on September 30.

Should the legislation advance, these bills address some key issues regarding the future of UAS, such as privacy protections, carriage of property, unmanned aircraft traffic management (“UTM”), risk-based permitting, UAS defense, recreational drone registration, and public aircraft operations (“PAO”).  These topics are analyzed in more detail below.