FAA Proposes Long-Awaited, Major Rulemaking Governing Unmanned Aircraft Systems/Drones

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Anticipated to be a lynchpin in the integration of unmanned aircraft systems (“UAS” or “drones”) into the National Airspace System, the Federal Aviation Administration (“FAA”) published a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (“NPRM”) today, which contemplates a massive plan to track virtually all commercial and recreational drones operating in the airspace of the United States. This rulemaking is expected to pave the way for expanded commercial UAS operations, such as flights beyond visual line of sight, flights over people, operations at night and UAS package deliveries.

The NPRM, issued in draft form last Thursday, proposes to implement a remote identification (“Remote ID”) process that will provide the FAA, air traffic control towers and other airspace users the ability to obtain UAS location and user information on a near real-time basis. The proposed rule also provides a framework that would facilitate the collection and storage of certain data, such as the identity, location and altitude of unmanned aircraft. The FAA explains that the Remote ID process is necessary to ensure public safety and the safety of the United States airspace by providing airspace awareness to national security agencies and law enforcement entities that could use this information to distinguish compliant airspace users from those potentially posing a safety or security risk.

All commercial and recreational UAS operations (with the exception of amateur-built UAS and UAS weighing less than 0.55 pounds) will be subject to the requirements of this rule. Recognizing that certain UAS (including amateur-built aircraft and previously manufactured UAS) will not have remote identification capabilities, the proposed rule contemplates that such drones will be required to operate within visual line of sight and within new FAA-recognized identification areas. The NPRM includes a three-year timeline from the issuance of a final rule for complete implementation.

The NPRM contains three independent parts. First, it establishes operating requirements for UAS operators and UAS performance-based design and production standards. Second, it contemplates a network of Remote ID UAS Service Suppliers that, under contract with the FAA, would collect the identification and location information. Third, it contemplates that standard setting organizations will develop the technical collection of performance-based design and production requirements in the proposed rule.

The key feature of the NPRM is that it establishes design and production requirements for two types of remote identification categories: Standard and Limited. A Standard Remote Identification UAS would be required to broadcast identification and locational information directly from the unmanned aircraft and simultaneously transmit the same information through the intranet to a Remote ID UAS Service Supplier. A Limited Remote Identification UAS would be required to transmit such information through the internet only.

Public comments will be due on or before March 2, 2020.

DISCLAIMER: Because of the generality of this update, the information provided herein may not be applicable in all situations and should not be acted upon without specific legal advice based on particular situations.

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