Drone Rules Wend Through Congress

WASHINGTON—Lawmakers are weighing in on drone rules as they consider the reauthorization of the Federal Aviation Administration. One is looking to keep drones away from airports. Another has introduced a bill to allow testing for commercial purposes and to create a deputy administrator of drones within the FAA.

The reauthorization bill itself—The Aviation Innovation Reform & Reauthorization Act—contains a section on unmanned aerial systems that reiterates its directive to the FAA to establish rules for the commercial testing and deployment of drones by Sept. 30, 2015. The FAA missed that deadline and continues to issue waivers for the commercial use of drones, including a blanket waiver for the operation of those weighing less than 55 pounds and operating below 200 feet. (SeeFAA Eases Drone Rules, Opens Door for Newsgathering,March 25, 2015.)

Lawmakers are pressuring the FAA to get on with it so that UAS research and development isn’t driven off shore. Earlier this month, Rep. Earl Blumenaeur (D-Ore.) introduced the “Commercial UA Modernization Act” to create an interim framework for drone development until the FAA finishes its rules.

“… Our laws and regulations are stifling innovation instead of encouraging it, forcing American companies to look overseas to test new technology,” Blumenauer said in a statement. “The ‘Commercial UAS Modernization Act’ provides a much-needed update to federal rules, making it clear that flying smartphones should not be regulated like Predator drones.”

The bill would create interim guidelines for the commercial drone use and testing, and it would create a deputy administrator responsible for integrating drones into National Air Space. The bill also directs the FAA to look into the type of drone delivery that Amazon has proposed.

Last Friday, Sen. Bill Nelsen (D-Fla.), said he would offer a measure in the current reauthorization bill to keep drones away from “sensitive areas, such as our nation’s airports.” Nelson is the top Democrat on the Senate Commerce Committee, which has oversight of the FAA.

“Right now, it seems no one in the federal government is willing to take the lead to bolster and install technologies that could protect airports from the threat posed by drones,” he said at a meeting with Florida airport directors in Orlando, one of the cities along with Miami that ranks highest for close calls between drones and manned aircraft.

The FAA draft reauthorization act currently wending its way through the House and Senate contains some language in addition to its original directive to establish drone rules. Namely, it directs that the FAA “expedites safe deployment of commercial UAS by creating a risk-based permitting process.”

This process is supposed to consider the “kinetic energy” of the drone, where and how it’s to be operated, any known hazards and their likelihood, known failure modes of the aircraft and its operational history.

The bill also encourages “greater utilization of UAS test ranges,” and the development of “sense-and-avoid” technologies. Other elements include the establishment of a streamlined process for permitting the operation of small drones for “certain uses,” and a pilot program to evaluate drone detection and mitigation technology. It further addresses the use of drones in firefighting, directs the Department of Transportation Inspector General to evaluate the FAA’s drone registration system—which went live last month—and conduct a study on the privacy implications of drone operations.

The FAA currently is funded on a six-month extension through the end of March.

Also see…
December 10, 2015
Drone Flight Still Challenged by FAA
The first thing to consider is that while anyone can purchase and operate a drone for hobby or recreational purposes, as soon as you start using the drone for production, newsgathering, or… tower inspections, it is no longer being operated in accordance with FAA rules for model aircraft operations.