Drone Groups Give Blessing to FAA Reauthorization, Now OK’d by Congress

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Expecting the legislation to further the commercial unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) industry, drone industry groups are encouraging President Donald Trump to sign into law the 2018 Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) Reauthorization Act, which has now been passed by both the House and Senate.

The bill, H.R.1082, passed the House last week by 398-23 and the Senate today by 93-6. The FAA Reauthorization Act provides funding for the FAA for five years and, according to UAS industry groups, takes steps toward further UAS integration.

The Alliance for Drone Innovation (ADI), whose members include drone manufacturers, suppliers and software developers such as DJI, 3DR, GoPro, Parrot and Kittyhawk, lays out the following key provisions of the bill:

  • Authorizes the FAA to establish a remote identification solution to monitor airborne drones;
  • Creates a framework for authorities to take emergency action against drones that appear to pose threats;
  • Emphasizes safety education for new drone pilots, including requiring tests to help ensure they understand the rules of safe flight; and
  • Encourages drone manufacturers to innovate new technological approaches to improving safety and to place them on the market as soon as possible.

“The Alliance for Drone Innovation is thrilled that House and Senate leadership worked tirelessly together and with input from industry to pass legislation that provides a long-term FAA authorization and reinforces the agency’s central role in regulating the National Airspace System,” states Jenny Rosenberg, executive director of ADI. “This bill confirms Congress’ intent to support the ongoing work to safely integrate drones into our airspace. We applaud the critical new tools that FAA will have to help ensure drones and traditional aircraft can safely share the skies.”

In addition to the remote ID and counter-UAS provisions, the Small UAV Coalition highlights the following aspects of the legislation:

  • Expedites the development and implementation of an unmanned traffic management (UTM) system;
  • Establishes a process to develop consensus industry standards in lieu of protracted type and airworthiness certification;
  • Improves the pathway to UAS delivery through a rigorous, risk-based certification process; and
  • Increases transparency in the Part 107 waiver approval process.

“The coalition was honored to work with the [Senate and House] committees on this important legislation that includes a robust and forward-leaning unmanned aircraft systems subtitle with provisions the coalition has long championed,” the group says in a statement. “We are confident that it will create opportunities for additional and expanded commercial UAS operations in the United States and promote renewed global leadership if acted upon expeditiously.”

The Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International (AUVSI) focuses specifically on the remote ID, UTM and counter-UAS provisions of the bill:

“The Senate passage of the FAA bill provides much-needed, multiyear stability to the entire U.S. aviation system and launches the UAS industry to new heights,” says Brian Wynne, president and CEO of AUVSI. “The bill calls for rulemaking on a UAS traffic management system, which will help ensure the safe and efficient use of the national airspace.

“The legislation also includes the implementation of remote identification standards. The ability to remotely identify and track UAS is the linchpin needed to advance the UAS industry, and it is critical for the ultimate realization of expanded operations, such as beyond line of sight and package delivery. Additionally, the bill addresses national security concerns by granting DHS and DOJ the authority to mitigate potentially malicious UAS operations,” he continues. “This will help keep our skies safe and secure for all aircraft – manned and unmanned.”

Notably, the bill also explicitly states “repeal” Section 336 of the FAA Modernization and Reform Act of 2012, which currently prohibits the FAA from regulating qualifying model aircraft.

In turn, the Academy of Model Aeronautics (AMA) finds the bill to be “problematic,” although it includes some AMA-supported provisions.

Specifically, the group takes issue with Section 349, “Exception for limited recreational operations of unmanned aircraft.” According to AMA, this section prevents AMA members from flying over 400 feet in Class G airspace and, importantly, removes the “model aircraft” definition and instead “lumps all hobbyists, toys and the recreational community under the FAA as simply unmanned aircraft systems.”

However, AMA supports a provision to clearly define community-based organizations (CBOs) – e.g., AMA – which will be given a “more prominent role in shaping future regulations,” the group says.

“Congress recognizes the distinction between members of a CBO, like AMA, and those ‘outside the membership, guidelines and programming’ of a CBO,” AMA explains. “Congress then tasks the FAA to consider different operating parameters for each recreational community.”

Further, although the bill authorizes the FAA to establish a remote ID solution for drones, there are no “prescriptive remote ID equipage mandates – which allows AMA to continue to champion for a more reasonable approach and threshold,” the group says.

The Commercial Drone Alliance, which earlier this year pushed for a repeal of Section 336 in the bill, is voicing strong support for the legislation.

“Until today, drone policy concerns halted new rulemakings that would expand the ability of the commercial drone industry to fly over people, at night and beyond visual line of sight,” says Lisa Ellman, co-executive director of the group. “With the passage of the FAA Reauthorization Act of 2018, we are thrilled that the FAA is closer than ever to moving forward with rules that can broadly enable expanded commercial drone operations.”

Co-executive director Gretchen West adds, “The Commercial Drone Alliance stands ready to continue our work with the FAA and other stakeholders to make expanded commercial drone operations, in addition to broad remote identification, a reality. We hope to see these rulemakings move forward expeditiously.”

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