Does the FAA Actually Have Authority to Regulate UAVs?

The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) may not have the legal authority to regulate unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs).

Although the agency currently requires operators to obtain an experimental aircraft permit to fly UAVs and levies fines for unlicensed usage, the statutory and regulatory laws that govern the FAA do not give it explicit power to do so, according to an article by Slate.

The article outlines three specific points to make its argument. First, UAVs are not defined in the codes and regulations that delineate the scope of the FAA's authority. The agency is using guidelines for manned aircraft as the basis for its UAV regulations.

Second, the FAA has not formed a regulatory system to govern UAVs and is instead relying on policy interpretation documents, which do not require public comment. The article claims that when the FAA refers to Advisory Circular 91-57, which deals with model airplanes, in its literature about UAV governance, the agency is citing voluntary compliance.

Slate goes on to say that low-flying UAVs should be permissible. The FAA itself has documented that Class G airspace – from the ground up to least 700 feet in the eastern U.S. – is beyond its jurisdiction.

Finally, the FAA Modernization and Reform Act of 2012 did not grant the FAA the power to govern UAV operations, Slate contends. In passing the legislation, Congress defined unmanned aircraft and called on the FAA to integrate UAVs into the national airspace system. Yet, the law's language does not suggest that UAVs are barred from the airspace system until further notice.

Read the full Slate article here.


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