FAA Reauthorization and the FAA’s First ARC Meeting about Drone Identification

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The last few months have been packed with regulatory news.

We’ve had the proposal of the Feinstein bill, the hobbyist court decision, and news that the Trump administration is calling for the privatization of the Air Traffic Control system—and those are only a few of the big items (read Christopher Korody’s recent article 7 Forces Transforming the FAA and the UAV Industry for an even longer list).

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Well, the last week was no different.

In this article we’ll address recent news on the FAA Reauthorization Act, which contains proposals to fast track many of the regulatory changes we’re clamoring for in the industry (like BVLOS flights and a development of rules for air traffic management for sUAS), as well as covering the FAA’s recent meeting of the Advisory Rulemaking Committee (ARC) to discuss a system for identifying and tracking drones.

FAA Reauthorization

Last week the Senate and House began the process of creating the FAA Reauthorization Act.

The goal of the legislation is to reauthorize the FAA until the year 2021, giving it funding and shaping its direction.

In other times this might be a somewhat standard process, but given the current regulatory climate it’s almost inevitable that reauthorization will lead to some big changes for the FAA (if it gets passed—read on to learn more about the complexities of making the act into law).

So far it looks like ATC privatization may be the biggest change proposed. Neither the Feinstein drone act (actually called the Drone Federalism Act S.1272) nor the Drone Innovation Act H.R. 2930, which both propose handing jurisdiction for airspace to local authorities, look like they’re going to get any traction here, since neither have been incorporated into the respective House and Senate bills.

Some positive developments look like they might emerge from the House reauthorization bill, which proposes that commercial drone operators get federal deadlines for regulations governing deliveries, for BVLOS flights (which go hand-in-hand with deliveries), and for the creation of special rules for smaller drones.

So what happens next?

Assuming both the House and the Senate pass their respective bills, members from each will meet to settle the differences between the two and create a final proposal, called a Conference Report. The Conference Report is then sent back to both chambers for a vote, and, if it passes, is then sent to the president, who either signs it into law or vetoes it.

If you’d like to learn more, Christopher Korody does a great job breaking down the details of the process in his recent article on the subject.

In case you want to look up more information, here are the specific names of each FAA Reauthorization bill:

  • The Senate bill is S.1405, the FAA Reauthorization Act of 2017.
  • The House bill is H.R. 2997, 21st Century Aviation Innovation, Reform, and Reauthorization (AIRR) Act.

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FAA’s ARC Meets to Discuss Drone Identification and Tracking

The FAA’s Advisory and Rulemaking Committee (ARC) met recently to discuss the possibility of implementing a drone tracking and identification system.

“During this initial meeting, the ARC considered issues such as existing regulations applicable to drone identification and tracking, air traffic management for drones, concerns and authorities of local law enforcement, and potential legal considerations.”

– FAA

The ARC includes representatives from Amazon, Ford, and the New York City Police Department, among others.

With the recent hobbyist court decision removing the FAA’s ability to track hobbyist drone owners, there is now a gap when it comes to knowing who is flying what (admittedly, the registration system had its own gap, in that pilots themselves were registered but not their individual drones).

The ARC’s inquiries are digging deeper than simply requiring pilots to register, and looking at how each individual drone can be identified and tracked.

This kind of tracking could actually free up other aspects of sUAS regulation, such as flights over people and flights Beyond the Visual Line of Sight (BVLOS). By knowing who’s flying, there would potentially be greater freedom in the types of flights permitted.

Regarding technology and how this kind of tracking could actually take place, the Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International  put out a call for proposals for the creation of a remote identification system for drones and received 45 unique responses. Industry giant DJI submitted a proposal in which sUAS would transmit location and registration number using radio equipment already present on most drones.

On the legal side, the FAA Reauthorization Bill discussed above is one potential avenue for providing the FAA with the authority they would need to implement such a tracking system.

Right now these discussions are in the preliminary stages, and we’ll have to wait and see what emerges.

 



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