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News & Notes

Your Guide to 5 Pending Drone Bills

FAA reauthorization, state regulation, and data security are all on the line

June 23, 2017

There’s been a lot of drone activity at the White House lately. Yesterday, drone industry leaders met with President Trump to discuss ways to bolster U.S. technology. But the legislative wheels are already in motion in the House and Senate to create new drone rules. In addition to this year's FAA reauthorization efforts, there are also a number of other drone-related bills in the works.

FAA reauthorization has been a challenge for legislators. Last year, the House and Senate came to an agreement to extend the FAA’s current authorization — for the third time. That extension will expire at the end of September.

There are now two new reauthorization bills: one in the House, and one in the Senate.

Senator John Thune, R-SD, and Senator Bill Nelson, D-FL, have sponsored multiple bills to reauthorize the FAA. 

U.S. Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation
FAA Reauthorization Act of 2017

The FAA Reauthorization Act of 2017 is the Senate’s proposed bill. Senator John Thune, R-SD, and Senator Bill Nelson, D-FL, are sponsoring the bill — they also sponsored the 2016 Senate FAA reauthorization effort.

The Senate bill focuses heavily on privacy and data. Under this bill, commercial drone operators would need a written privacy policy explaining how they would collect, store, and delete data and images captured with their drones. These policies would need to be public.

The FAA would be required to publish information on public and commercial drone operators in a publicly accessible database. This would include names, email, phone number, and drone identification number.

This database would require additional information for drones “that will collect personally identifiable information about individuals.” Operators collecting such information would need to disclose the circumstances in which the drone would be used, the kinds of information it would collect, how that data will be collected, stored, and deleted.

However, the bill specifies that this database would only be required until the FAA establishes a drone identification system.

The bill also supports drone test sites’ research, a set of safety standards for drone manufacturers, expanded nighttime and beyond visual line-of-sight (BVLOS) drone operations in the Arctic, rules and certifications authorizing drone deliveries, and guidelines by which drones under 4.4 pounds could be flown without an airman certification.

A somewhat timely clause notes that the FAA Administrator would be able to create rules “related to the registration and marking of model aircraft” — a potential workaround to the recent ruling finding hobbyist drone registration unlawful.
The FAA Reauthorization Act would ensure small drones under 4.4 pounds, like the DJI Spark, would not require any type of airman's certification. Drew Halverson
21st Century AIRR Act

The House’s bill, known as the 21st Century AIRR Act, is probably best defined by its hope to privatize air traffic control — a move also hinted at in the Trump administration’s 2018 budget and later confirmed by President Trump earlier this month. This would transfer all air traffic control operations to a private company, moving them out of the FAA’s jurisdiction.

The AIRR Act, like the Senate’s bill, aims to hasten integration of drones into the national airspace. The AIRR Act’s operational permits would require consideration of multiple safety factors. One factor is a drone’s kinetic energy, which was at the heart of recent studies on the potential dangers of human-drone collisions. It also specifies that civil aircraft would be required to include sense-and-avoid capabilities.

Operational permit applications would be accepted or denied within 120 days of application and would be good for five years. Applications for operations in support of emergency preparedness or response would be expedited.

The bill would require the FAA to compile reports on the effectiveness of drone registration, enforcement efforts, and financing of drones.

The AIRR Act also encourages operational exemptions in the Arctic, outlines a system through which unmanned traffic management could be implemented, and rules and certifications authorizing drone deliveries.

Drone Federalism Act

The Drone Federalism Act would allow state, local, and tribal governments to make drone rules for operations occurring under 200 feet AGL. Restrictions could be placed on flight speed, operational location, time of day, or generally reckless operations.

The bill would also prevent the FAA from allowing civil drone operations “in the immediate reaches of the airspace above property” without the property owner’s permission. That means no closer than 200 feet to the ground or any structure on the property — or any area where the drone would “interfere with enjoyment of the property.”

Many in the drone community take issue with the Federalism Act as it stands — new and veteran operators alike already struggle to navigate a complex landscape of federal, state, and local drone regulations.

Drone Innovation Act

The Drone Innovation Act, just as it sounds, is a bill meant to promote drone innovation. It encourages harmony between local drone laws, requiring a framework for state, local, and tribal governments to standardize their drone restrictions.

The Innovation Act is similar to the Federalism Act in that it focuses on the power of local governments to enable successful drone integration. The Innovation Act contains the same specific requirements as to privacy — airspace under the 200 foot AGL threshold would be under local jurisdiction.

This bill also promotes pilot programs between federal and local governments, as well as prevents local governments from overly prohibitive flight restrictions.

Safe DRONE Act

The Safe Development, Research, and Opportunities Needed for Entrepreneurship Act of 2017, or the Safe DRONE Act, is the only pending drone bill with a clever acronym. It also has a diverse scope of initiatives.

The bill outlines requirements for the establishment of a fully operational unmanned traffic management system. A detailed plan would need to be compiled within a year of the bill’s passing.

It also addresses expansion of drone education at community and technical colleges. The Secretary of Transportation would be allocated $5 million annually from 2018 to 2023 to pursue this initiative.

Notably, the bill would require the FAA to release notices of proposed rulemaking to allow operations over people, BVLOS, at night, and of multiple UAS within 270 days of its passing. These initiatives have been indefinitely stalled, presumably by President Trump’s reluctance to create new regulations.

The Safe DRONE Act also hopes to establish a working group on policy for inter-UAS communication systems, allocate $14 million to the FAA for research and testing (which the FAA definitely needs), and require hobbyist registration and online safety testing.

Under the new administration, there’s plenty of activity going on with drones. To keep up-to-date, check on Drone360’s “drone regulations” tag.
Featured image: Drew Halverson