Coalitions, Alliances…the Drone War continues

Drone Law Header 001The skyscape is abuzz with interested parties maneuvering for control over all things UAS.

A new lobbying group has formed this week in an effort to lead the charge toward a “practical and responsible regulatory framework” for UAS. Splitting off from the Small UAV Coalition, which includes companies such a Google and Amazon, a group of four UAS manufacturers have formed the Drone Manufacturer Alliance (DMA). The foursome is GoPro, 3DR, DJI and Parrot. The split makes sense for the manufacturers. The Small UAV Coalition is lobbying for regulations that will allow for freer and easier commercial usage of UAS, while the manufacturers primarily seek to promote their retail agenda. While the two groups have common interests, their positions are not 100% aligned. Thus, the DMA projects to be the voice of manufacturers, retailers and their customers on Capitol Hill.

The newly created FAA Task Force – the MicroArc – recently voiced interest in risk-based regulations for commercial operation of UAS. Such regulations could allow for a more flexible review of each individual application and the risks posed by the proposed UAS operation. A risk-based system would be more user friendly to commercial enterprises than a rigid one-size fits all regulatory process.

The Airline Pilots Associations (ALPA) opposes risk-based regulation. One key safety concern raised by ALPA is (its belief) that the command and control systems of UAS are unreliable and the risk of a “loss link” between the UAS and the command center is still too great. ALPA fears that absent strict regulations, UAS pose a significant risk to airline operations. Among other items, ALPA wants (1) UAS operated by properly certified pilots, (2) using identifiably airworthy systems; (3) that are equipped with detect and avoid technology. ALPA’s stated goal is to ensure that “aircraft certification, technology standards, and pilot certifications [are required] to maintain the safety of the airspace system.”

The FAA has joined forces with the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and CACI International to develop and implement a “rogue drone” detection system around airports. The “SkyTracker” system developed by CACI can detect the location of the UAS and its operator using radio waves and sensors. The implementation of this technology suggests that the FAA and DHS will aggressively prosecute individuals who operate UAS in the protected airspace around airports without proper authorization.

FUN FACT: Since September 24, 2014, the FAA has approved 4505 Section 333 petitions (for commercial operation of UAS in the national airspace). In February 2016 alone, the FAA approved over 500 petitions. While the Small UAS rule remains pending before Congress, a Section 333 petition will remain the means by which businesses can obtain permission to legally operate UAS in commerce.

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