The U.S. House of Representatives has unanimously passed an amendment on the fiscal year 2016 Transportation, Housing & Urban Development Appropriations Act, H.R.2577, to support the agricultural use of small unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs).
The amendment was proposed by Rep. Dan Newhouse, R-Wa., and requires the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) to take agricultural applications of small UAV technology into consideration during the rulemaking process for UAVs.
“The prospective uses for small [UAVs] include exciting opportunities for agriculture, responding to wildfires, and a multitude of innovative applications that can offer economic and safety benefits,” explains Newhouse. “The U.S. should not fall behind other nations that are currently developing safe testing and commercial use of UAV technology.
“The rulemaking process for UAVs must include thorough consideration of new agricultural uses as these technologies develop while also addressing important safety and privacy concerns,” he says.
However, John Marciano, partner at law firm Chadbourne & Park LLP, believes Newhouse’s amendment – although commendable in theory – is fruitless.
What the proposed amendment tries to do, he explains, is say, “You can’t foreclose us from operating with an agricultural purpose.”
Marciano says, though, that Newhouse “misses the point entirely.” Newhouse proposes that the FAA “can’t issue regulations in contravention of 14 CFR 21.25(b)(1),” which mandates that “an applicant is entitled to a certificate if the aircraft is not unsafe,” according to Marciano. (14 CFR refers to Title 14 of the Code of Federal Regulations, which comprises the FAA’s regulations governing aircraft.)
He notes that although the operations will likely be limited due to safety concerns, UAVs for agricultural purposes will, indeed, be included in the FAA’s final rules for small UAVs. “There is no proposal to amend/restrict 14 CFR 21.25 at all,” he explains.
And, because (b)(1) is “just a definition,” Marciano adds, “it doesn’t do anything on its own” and thereby would cause Newhouse’s amendment to have “no operative effect.”