FAA Proposes Talking About Regulations for Drones

AutoInformed.com on UAS or DronesWith an airspeed less than that of the Wright Flyer, the FAA has set up work groups to finally provide specific regulations covering UAS – unmanned aircraft systems – or drones in the national airspace it solely controls. However, the process could extend beyond 2018 before meaningful rules are in place, an agonizingly slow pace given the rate of technological change versus the sand filled hour-glass used during  law and rulemaking. As a first step, a so-called task group or sub-committee on airspace access is calling for more industry input. The overall goal is to have one, consistent regulatory system. (Drones – FAA Releases Updated Sighting Reports and Report an Accident)

First is to have by the end of 2017 rough guides for drone integration and access to airspace – something that doesn’t exist now. What about privacy? Then one or more rule making processes would ensue that could take years. Needed are rules for the roles and responsibilities of the drone operator and the air navigation provider, as well as the equipment a drone must carry, among many other undefined areas. Should a drone carry – say, a transponder for tracking and enforcement, a registration that is crash proof, as well a public and private infrastructure needs for safe drone use that doesn’t threaten flight operations.

For current information on where unmanned aircraft can be flown safely, the FAA offers the B4UFLY app which is available for iOS and Android smartphones. The app is free and can be downloaded from iTunes and Google Play. (Drones – FAA UAS Symposium Registration Opens)

Federal Sovereignty

Since 1926 when the U.S. declared exclusive Federal Sovereignty of the airspace (revised in 1938 and 1958 as technology changed) statutes do not permit state and local governments to directly or indirectly regulate aircraft flight operations.

The roles of state and local governments now need to be addressed with low-flying drones in non-regulated and regulated airspace. Governments are already doing this on their own: Arizona, Delaware, Maryland, Michigan, Oregon, Rhode Island, and Virginia, prohibit local government regulation of drones. Instead, the state legislature now has the sole authority, but under existing law, they have no authority. (FAA Finally Announces Registration Rules for Drones – UAS)

State Sovereignty

Other states – California, Minnesota, Nevada and Tennessee – declare state sovereignty unless given to the Federal Government via a constitution grant from the people of the state. This too is meaningless under existing law.

Complicating this atmospheric murk is a Supreme Court decision (Arizona vs U.S. – 2012) that says that “state regulation even if it parallels Federal is illegal.” The Supreme court has also overruled local noise ordinances for low flying aircraft. On the other hand, the Supreme Court (Cosby and Griggs v Allegheny County – 1962) said that flight patterns between 30 feet and 300 feet over the landowners’ residence constituted an unlawful taking of an air easement. (FAA Belatedly Issues Rules for Some Drones)

How this affects the FAA roles and responsibilities needs to be worked, a potentially slow, laborious process. One conceivable outcome is to more clearly define low altitude air space regarding drones there could be delegated jurisdiction to state and local governments. What is a minimum safe altitude for a drone? What is the enforcement mechanism Federal, State, local? What of emergence response scenarios – use drones, but prohibit interference with aircraft, which has already happened? (Ineffective FAA Sits by as Drones Take Over U.S. Airspace)

Well, fasten your safety belt, this going to be a long flight on bureaucratic airlines skirting political and commercial storms.

About Ken Zino

Ken Zino is an auto industry veteran with global experience in print and electronic media. He has auto testing, marketing, public relations and communications expertise garnered while working in Asia, Europe and the U.S.
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One Response to FAA Proposes Talking About Regulations for Drones

  1. AOPA on Drone Accident Reporting says:

    The FAA and NTSB each have different rules to ensure proper oversight of certain UAS operations, and different rules mean that some events may have to be reported to one agency but not the other.

    For operations conducted under Part 107, a remote pilot is required to report an accident to the FAA within 10 days if the event meets the criteria of 14 CFR 107.9: Accident Reporting. The regulation requires reporting of any event involving: (1) serious injury to any person or any loss of consciousness; or (2) damage to property (other than the unmanned aircraft) unless “the cost of repair (including labor and materials) does not exceed $500, or the fair market value of the property does not exceed $500 in the event of a total loss.”

    The report required for these Part 107 operations may be submitted through the appropriate FAA Regional Operations Center, online, or by telephone. The report contains information such as: the remote PIC’s name, contact information and certificate number; the UAS registration number; location, date, and time of the accident; and a description of the event, including the extent of any injuries or property damage.

    Also applicable to Part 107 operations are the NTSB rules, which require public and civil UAS operators to provide immediate notification to the nearest NTSB office in the event of an “unmanned aircraft accident” anytime between the time the UAS is activated with the intention of flight and the completion of the mission. Under the NTSB rules, an “unmanned aircraft accident” occurs when the operation of a UAS results in any person suffering death or serious injury, or the unmanned aircraft weighed at least 300 pounds and sustained substantial damage.

    Significantly, neither the FAA nor the NTSB reporting requirements above apply to unmanned aircraft under 55 pounds that are flown for hobby or recreational use and otherwise meet the definition of model aircraft in Section 336 of the FAA Modernization and Reform Act of 2012. In a 2015 interpretation, the NTSB stated that it has “consistently excluded UAS flown for hobby and recreational use from [its accident rule] and has historically not investigated the rare occasions in which a model aircraft has caused serious injury or fatality.”

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