A recent near midair collision between U.S. Airways Flight 4650, a CRJ-200 jet with a 50- passenger capacity, and a drone has (deservedly) sparked a flurry of commentary regarding safe drone operation. This near miss, which occurred on March 22, 2014, during a flight from Charlotte, North Carolina, to Tallahassee, Florida, highlights the significant airspace concerns – as well as the product and operator liability risks – associated with unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) operations. The incident also puts on full display a major flaw in the existing system: there are currently no UAS-specific regulations designed to prevent these “close calls.”
What Is the FAA Doing? Currently, the FAA takes the position that it has authority over UAS operations in U.S. airspace. In reality, however, the FAA has been slow to promulgate regulations governing UAS operations. The closest the FAA has come is its 2007 Policy Statement, Unmanned Aircraft Operations in the National Airspace System. There, the FAA merely lays out a blanket prohibition: “[n]o person may operate a UAS in the National Airspace System without specific authority[.]” According to the FAA, there’s only one way to get that authority: “apply directly to the FAA for permission to fly.”
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