By Tim Kenneally – March 9, 2016
The 2016 FAA Reathorization Act (AIRR Act) is pending before Congress. Advocates of commercial drone use are both praising the advances codified in the AIRR Act and bemoaning the absence of others. Among the advances included in the AIRR Act are provisions that will allow for permitting based on risk thereby eliminating case-by-case certification. The AIRR Act calls for the creation of a UAS traffic management system. The Act also includes a “micro drone” classification that will not require a pilot’s license. If approved, the AIRR Act will represent progress toward a system in which commercial use of drones is more orderly, safer and easier.
Unfortunately, the AIRR Act does not go far enough. The commercial industry wanted the AIRR Act to permit operation of UAS beyond the visual line of sight of the operator. The Act as drafted does not permit such operation. Unless and until the Act is expanded, companies looking to perform deliveries and other long distance UAS commercial activities face significant hurdles within the current system.
On February 24, 2016, the Federal Aviation Association (FAA) announced the establishment of an Aviation Rulemaking Committee intended to make recommendations for the safe operation of certain Unmanned Aircraft Systems (drones) over people “not directly involved in the operation of the aircraft.” The FAA has advised that it has a “significant interest in expanding commercial access” for drones, and is committed to a “flexible regulatory approach” that both “accommodates innovation” and maintains “high levels of safety”. The Committee, which includes “industry stakeholders” is expected to issue its recommendations quickly as it has only been chartered through April 30, 2016. The creation of this Committee suggests a commitment on the part of FAA to develop regulations that will allow for expanded business usage of drones.