Drone Enthusiasts and Industry Await FAA Reauthorization Act

drones with camera

You’ve probably seen countless YouTube videos talking about the FAA Reauthorization Act of 2018. Yesterday the bill cleared the United States Senate with a vote of 93-6. Yes, the community at large has been split on the bill which only lacks the President’s signature before it becomes law.

Several manufacturers joined the Commercial Drone Alliance, while the Academy of Model Aeronautics urged its members to contact their local representatives to oppose the bill. In the end, national media wall-to-wall with coverage of the administration at the expense of talking about anything else.

What is the FAA Reauthorization Act of 2018?

The main headline is its the first five-year bill funding the FAA since the 1980s. Its goal is to provide much-needed stability to the federal agency regulating our shared airspace. One of the bill’s chief advocates, Senator James Inhofe (R-OK) spoke to the Washington Post about the passage: “This is something we’ve been trying to do for many years. It’s really a big, major deal.”

What about drones and the new law? First, Section 336, currently governing all hobbyist drone use, has been repealed. Once the law takes effect, all hobbyists will be required to register their aircraft and pass an aeronautical knowledge test. It’s both of these which garner the most consternation. I rather have clear federal guidelines than a hodgepodge of local ordinances.

In the end, the act will push the industry forward and give a solid foundation for growth. We already see that with DJI securing LAANC supplier status from the FAA. Should people have to take a test before flying a drone? I fall into the camp of yes because it puts everyone on equal footing who flies. And it fosters understanding between the community and people who may not fully comprehend the capabilities of camera drones.

Here are the relevant sections for the community (summaries):

SUBTITLE B – UNMANNED AIRCRAFT SYSTEMS
Section 341. Definitions; integration of civil unmanned aircraft systems into national airspace system.

This section codifies definitions related to unmanned aircraft systems (UAS). Additionally, this section would update and codify current law regarding the integration of UAS into the national airspace system (NAS).

Section 342. Update of FAA comprehensive plan.
This section requires the DOT to update the comprehensive plan required by the FAA Modernization and Reform Act of 2012 (FMRA; P.L. 112-95; 49 U.S.C. 40101 note) and to submit a report to Congress regarding the alignment of UAS programs at DOT and the strategy to avoid duplication and leverage capabilities across programs.

Section 343. Unmanned aircraft test ranges.
This section reauthorizes and enhances the utilization of the seven existing UAS test ranges until September 30, 2023. This section updates the FAA’s authority with respect to the test ranges, first authorized in 2012, by more clearly directing research priorities, improving coordination with the FAA, and enhancing protections for proprietary information to encourage more fruitful engagement with the private sector.

Section 344. Small unmanned aircraft in the Arctic.
This section codifies a provision enacted in FMRA governing UAS operations in the Arctic.
Section 345. Small unmanned aircraft safety standards.

This section directs the FAA to establish a process to accept risk-based, consensus safety standards for small UAS and authorize the operation of small UAS designed, produced, or modified in accordance with these standards in lieu of the more cumbersome certification process used for the approval of other aircraft.

Section 346. Public unmanned aircraft systems.
This section codifies existing authority to authorize public (i.e., governmental) aircraft operations. This section also directs the FAA to permit the use of public actively tethered UAS (governmental UAS physically attached to a ground station with a tether that provides the UAS with power) that operate within specific parameters.

Section 348. Carriage of property by small unmanned aircraft systems for compensation or hire.
This section requires the FAA to update existing regulations authorizing carriage of property by operators of small UAS for compensation or hire within the United States not later than 1 year after the date of enactment. This section also authorizes the DOT to amend current regulations to establish economic authority for the carriage of property by small UAS for compensation or hire. Finally, this section states that, pending the update of regulations required by this section, a person may seek authority to carry property via a small UAS for compensation or hire using existing processes.
Section 349. Exception for limited recreational operations of unmanned aircraft.

This section creates a framework for the operation of recreational aircraft including operating requirements, aeronautical knowledge testing, and the qualifications for community-based organizations that support recreational aircraft activities. This section also includes a process for FAA to periodically update operational parameters for recreational aircraft.

Section 350. Use of unmanned aircraft systems at institutions of higher education.
This section permits UAS operated by an institution of higher education for educational or research purposes to fall under the definition of recreational purpose. The FAA is authorized to establish regulations, procedures, and standards, as necessary, to facilitate the safe operation of UAS by institutions of higher education.

Section 351. Unmanned aircraft systems integration pilot program.
This section places the “Unmanned Aircraft System Integration Pilot Program” (IPP; as described in 82 Federal Register 50301) in law and adds a requirement for the DOT to notify Congress prior to initiating any additional rounds of agreements under this pilot program.

Section 352. Part 107 transparency and technology improvements.
This section requires the FAA to publish information on approved small UAS waivers and airspace authorizations and to provide real-time data on application status.

Section 353. Emergency exemption process.
This section states the sense of Congress that the use of UAS by civil and public operators has become an increasingly important tool in response to a catastrophe, disaster or other emergencies. It further directs the FAA to update and improve the Special Governmental Interest process to ensure that UAS operators, such as local law enforcement agencies and first responders, can continue to use UAS quickly and efficiently in response to a disaster or other emergency. This section also requires the FAA to develop best practices for the use of UAS by States and localities to respond in emergencies.

Section 354. Treatment of unmanned aircraft operating underground.
This section makes explicit that UAS operations underground are not subject to FAA regulation. This is consistent with existing regulations.

Section 355. Public UAS operations by Tribal governments.
This section allows certain tribal governments to operate unmanned aircraft as public aircraft.
Section 356. Authorization of appropriations for Know Before You Fly campaign.
This section authorizes $1 million to be appropriated to the FAA for the “Know Before You Fly” educational campaign for each of FY 2019 through FY 2023.

Section 357. Unmanned aircraft systems privacy policy.
This section states that it is the policy of the United States that the operation of any UAS should be carried out in a manner that respects and protects personal privacy consistent with the United States Constitution and Federal, State, and local law.

Section 358. UAS privacy review.
This section directs the GAO, in consultation with the DOT and the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA), to carry out a review of the privacy issues and concerns associated with the operation of UAS in the NAS and to report to Congress.

Section 359. Study on fire department and emergency service agency use of unmanned aircraft systems.
This section requires the FAA to study and report to Congress on the use of UAS by fire departments and other emergency service management agencies.

Section 360. Study on financing of unmanned aircraft services.
This section requires the GAO to study appropriate fee mechanisms for the FAA to recover the costs of regulation and safety oversight of UAS and the provisions of air navigation services to UAS. This section requires the GAO to consider a number of factors including resources necessary for safe unmanned aircraft operations and best practices or policies of other countries and to report its recommendations to Congress.

Section 361. Report on UAS and chemical aerial application.
This section requires the FAA to prepare a report evaluating which existing aviation safety requirements should apply to UAS operations engaged in the aerial spraying of chemicals for agricultural purposes.

Section 362. Sense of Congress regarding unmanned aircraft safety.
This section expresses the sense of Congress regarding the safety risks caused by unauthorized operation of UAS in proximity to airports and the safety risks of potential collisions between UAS and conventional passenger aircraft. Further, it states Congress’ sense that the FAA should take measures to reduce such risks through enforcement actions and educational initiatives.

Section 363. Prohibition regarding weapons.
This section establishes a civil penalty for operating an unmanned aircraft or unmanned aircraft system that is equipped or armed with a dangerous weapon.

Section 364. U.S. Counter-UAS system review of interagency coordination processes.
This section requires the FAA, in consultation with government agencies authorized to operate counter-unmanned aircraft system (C-UAS) systems, to review interagency coordination, standards for the authorized Federal use of these systems and to report to Congress.

Section 365. Cooperation related to certain counter-UAS technology.
This section requires the DOT to consult with the Department of Defense (DOD) on matters related to the deployment of C-UAS systems in the NAS.

Section 366. Strategy for responding to public safety threats and enforcement utility of unmanned aircraft systems.
This section requires the FAA to develop a strategy to provide outreach, including a publicly available resource website, to State and local governments and provide guidance for local law enforcement agencies with respect to how to identify and respond to safety threats posed by UAS and to share information about how UAS can be used to aid law enforcement.

Section 367. Incorporation of Federal Aviation Administration occupations relating to unmanned aircraft into veterans employment programs of the administration.
This section requires the FAA, in consultation with the Department of Veterans Affairs, the DOD, and the Department of Labor, to determine whether occupations of the FAA relating to UAS technology and regulations can be incorporated into the Veterans’ Employment Program of the FAA.

Section 368. Public UAS access to special use airspace.
This section directs the DOT to issue guidance for the expedited and timely access to special use airspace for public UAS in order to assist Federal, State, local, or tribal law enforcement organizations in conducting law enforcement, emergency response, or for other activities.

Section 369. Applications for designation.
This section amends Section 2209 of the FAA Extension, Safety, and Security Act of 2016 (FESSA; P.L. 114-190) by establishing rulemaking deadlines and including “railroad facilities” as an example of critical infrastructure and therefore eligible to petition the FAA to prohibit UAS operation in close proximity.

Section 370. Sense of Congress on additional rulemaking authority.
This section states the sense of Congress that UAS operations beyond the visual line of sight, at night, and over people have tremendous potential to spur economic growth and improve emergency response efforts, and that integrating UAS into the NAS that can conduct these sort of operations should remain a top priority for the FAA in its rulemakings.

Section 371. Assessment of aircraft registration for small unmanned aircraft.
This section directs the DOT to enter into an agreement with the National Academy of Public Administration (NAPA) to estimate and assess compliance with, and the effectiveness of, the FAA’s Interim Final Rule entitled “Registration and Marking Requirements for Small Unmanned Aircraft (80 Fed. Reg. 78593). It also directs the DOT, upon receiving the assessment from NAPA, to develop metrics to measure compliance with the interim final rule (and any subsequent final rule) and report to Congress on the results of the assessment.

Section 372. Enforcement.
This section directs the FAA to establish a five-year pilot program to utilize available remote detection or identification technologies for safety oversight, including enforcement actions against operators of UAS that are not in compliance with applicable Federal aviation laws, including regulations. This section also directs the FAA to establish and publicize a mechanism for the public and Federal, State, and local law enforcement to report suspected unlawful operations of UAS and requires annual reporting to Congress. Finally, this section adds Chapter 448, as added by this Act, to the civil penalty regime under title 49 of U.S. Code.

Section 373. Federal and local authorities.
This section requires the GAO to conduct a study and report to Congress on the relative roles of Federal, State, local, and tribal governments in the regulation and oversight of low-altitude operations of UAS in the NAS. This section requires the GAO to consider specific factors while conducting its study, including the current state of the law with respect to Federal authority over low-altitude UAS operations and the current state of the law with respect to State, local, and tribal authority over low-altitude UAS operations.

Section 374. Spectrum.
This section requires the FAA, NTIA, and the Federal Communications Commission to submit to Congress a report on whether UAS operations should be permitted to operate on spectrum designated for aviation use. The report shall also include recommendations of other spectrum frequencies (such as LTE) that may be appropriate for flying UAS.

Section 375. Federal Trade Commission authority.
This section makes explicit the authority of the Federal Trade Commission to enforce violations of the privacy policies of commercial UAS operators.

Section 376. Plan for full operational capability of unmanned aircraft systems traffic management.
This section directs the FAA, in consultation with other Federal agencies as appropriate, to develop a plan to allow for the implementation of UAS traffic management (UTM) services. As part of the implementation plan, this section directs the FAA to take specific actions, including developing safety standards to permit, authorize, or allow the use of UTM services and to outline the roles and responsibilities of industry and government in establishing UTM services.

Section 377. Early implementation of certain UTM services.
This section directs the FAA, upon the request of a UTM service provider, to determine if certain UTM services may operate safely in the NAS before the completion of the implementation plan required under Section 376.

Section 378. Sense of Congress.
This section states the sense of Congress that commercial users of UAS, except those operating for purposes protected by the First Amendment of the Constitution, should have written privacy policies regarding the collection, use, retention, and dissemination of any data collected during the operation of a UAS and should make this privacy policy publicly available.

Section 379. Commercial and governmental operators.
This section requires the FAA to make available to the public, through a single location on the DOT’s website, information regarding government and commercial operators authorized to operate UAS in the NAS. The information reference above includes where the UAS is registered, summary descriptions of operations, and information on UAS that will collect personally identifiable information. This section includes a sunset provision.

Section 380. Transition language.
This section addresses technical legal issues associated with the codification of UAS-related provisions from FMRA.

Section 381. Unmanned aircraft systems in restricted buildings or grounds.
This section amends section 1752 of title 18, U.S. Code, to establish criminal penalties for someone knowingly and willfully operating a UAS with the intent to knowingly and willfully direct or otherwise cause such UAS to enter or operate within or above a restricted building or grounds.

Section 382. Prohibition.
This section amends title 18, U.S. Code, to establish criminal penalties for someone who operates a UAS and knowingly or recklessly interferes with a wildfire suppression, or law enforcement or emergency response effort related to wildfire suppression.

Section 383. Airport safety and airspace hazard mitigation and enforcement.
This section directs the FAA to work with DOD, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), and other relevant federal departments and agencies to ensure that C-UAS technologies do not adversely impact or interfere with safe airport operations, navigation, air traffic services, or the safe and efficient operation of the NAS. This section also directs the FAA to develop a plan for the certification, permitting, authorizing, or allowing the deployment of C-UAS technologies or systems and requires the FAA to test UAS hazard mitigation systems at 5 airports, including one airport that ranks in the top 10 of the FAA’s most recent Passenger Boarding Data. This section permits detection and mitigation systems approved through this testing to be eligible for purchase by airports using AIP funds.

Section 384. Unsafe operation of unmanned aircraft.
This section amends title 18, U.S. Code, to make it a crime to knowingly or recklessly operate a UAS in a manner that interferes with or disrupts the operation of a manned aircraft or too close to a runway.