New Law Goes into Effect August 29, 2016
After many months, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has issued regulations towards integrating Unmanned Aerial Systems (UAS, also called Drones) into the national airspace system which the FAA has regulated since 1958 pursuant to legislative mandate to provide for the safe and efficient use of the national airspace. With the rapidly evolving technology of UAS/Drones and the keen interest by businesses and the public to use and develop these systems, there was concern that the FAA was behind in addressing and regulating this new technology. Early on, the FAA attempted to use existing laws in an attempt to regulate UAS/drones which engendered much criticism and confusion, along with litigation.
Last December, the FAA began requiring registration of UAS, including through its web-based platform, for all owners of small unmanned aerial systems weighing more than 0.55 pounds and less than 55 pounds. Prior to then, there had been basic legal questions as to whether UAS were “aircraft” which would thus subject them to regulation by the FAA. That was resolved with an National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) decision regarding a civil penalty case against Raphael Pirker who used a UAS to film advertising video at the University of Virginia for what he claimed was “pocket change”. The FAA fined Mr. Pirker $10,000.00 for commercial (for compensation) operation of his UAS. Mr. Pirker litigated the civil penalty and the NTSB ruled on appeal that the UAS was an “aircraft” for purposes of being subject to FAA regulatory authority and remanded the case back to the NTSB law judge for fact finding as to whether Mr. Pirker’s drone flight was careless and reckless, thus violating existing Federal Aviation Regulations. Mr. Pirker settled with the FAA for a lesser amount and the case was closed.
The FAA has drawn distinctions between recreational use and commercial use and previously had asserted regulatory authority over commercial uses based on the 2012 FAA Modernization Act, and issued exemption for certain commercial operations. The FAA recognized though that more detailed and specific regulations needed to be implemented. On June 21, 2016, the FAA finalized the first operational rules for routine commercial use of small UAS or drones. The rules are effective beginning August 29, 2016. Interestingly, they include provisions for operators of drones to obtain a remote pilot certification from the FAA. For more information on this and to access the full regulation, a summary, UAS Frequently asked Questions, and other useful links please go to: https://www.faa.gov/news/press_releases/news_story.cfm?newsId=20515; and https://www.faa.gov/uas/resources/uas_regulations_policy/
Stay tuned though, as FAA Administrator Michael Huerta has said this is just the first step and that the FAA is already working on additional rules that will expand the range of operations of UAS.