Drone regulations being worked out
The United States government is moving rapidly towards the registration of small unmanned aircraft (s-UAS), primarily in response to a large number of complaints from pilots of manned aircraft to the FAA of a surge in the number of sightings of drones near major airports. In August this year, the FAA reported such sightings have almost tripled, from 218 in 2014 to 650 to the end of July this year.
Another major driver is the opinion of the United States Department of Transportation (DOT) that up to one million drones will be given as Christmas presents this year.
In the USA, as in New Zealand, it is forbidden to fly drones near airports, but the number sighted near airports in both countries continues to grow. At present the US DOT is the parent body of the FAA and is aiming at creating a “culture of accountability and responsibility”. It intends setting up a drone registry to track ownership of the vehicles.
In response to the problem, the FAA was charged with setting up a task force of government and industry personnel to look at drone registration by 20 November. Its members include traditional trade organisations such as the Aerospace Industries Association, the US Airline Pilots’ Association and others making up about a third of the task force, with federal agencies including the Departments of Commerce, Defense, Homeland Security, NASA, the Office of Management and Budget and the State Department.
Of some surprise to aviation interests is news that of the 30 seats on the task force, 11 are held by retail interests including retail giants Walmart and Amazon. Indeed, Amazon has two seats.
Since its formation the task force has by the due date promulgated a series of recommendations on the registration of small unmanned aircraft in the USA. These include a call for the registration requirements to apply to unmanned aircraft weighing more than 250g and up to 55lb. Operators included in this category would be required to register their names and addresses. The DOT is planning to have this and other recommendations incorporated as aviation rules by mid-December (this month).
Also of interest to the US aviation industry is the admission by the FAA that it is developing a regulation for the commercial operation by small unmanned aircraft and believes this will be federally approved by the end of June 2016. What is causing concern is that the FAA has already approved over 2000 exemptions for commercial drone operations as permitted by the FAA Modernization and Reform Act 2012.
An example of this is an application by Walmart for such an exemption on 26 October (and not yet determined) to test DJI multi-rotor drones for applications including surveillance of its distribution sites and parking lots, as well as carrying groceries to customers in its parking facility. Google is seeking a similar exemption, as is Amazon.
All of this does not seem to worry Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx. He believes registration alone “will enforce the need for unmanned aircraft users, including consumers and hobbyists to operate their drones safely”.
He also believes registration will “help us enforce the rules against those who operate unsafely, by allowing the FAA to identify the operators of unmanned aircraft. We can take enforcement action as necessary to protect the airspace for everyone.” Mr Foxx does not say what enforcement action is or would be available to the FAA.
On 23 November the National Business Aviation Association (NBAA) responded to the FAA’s release of the recommendations of the Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS) Registration Task Force Aviation Rulemaking Committee.
“NBAA was pleased to have the opportunity to provide input to the task force,” said NBAA president and CEO, Ed Bolen. “As a representative of companies that seek to supplement their use of manned aircraft, or solely use UAS, to support their businesses by adding UAS to their operations, we look forward to continuing our work with the FAA and other stakeholders to ensure that UAS are safely integrated into the National Airspace System (NAS).”
Sarah Wolf, NBAA’s senior manager of security and facilitation, who represents the business aviation community on the task force, commented, “Registration is an important foundation for safe UAS operations in the NAS, and defining registration requirements is an important first step toward that goal.”
The NBAA has long maintained that it is imperative that any introduction plan for UAS be focused on safety. This means UAS should not share the same airspace with manned aircraft until they have equivalent certification and airworthiness standards as manned aircraft, including the ability to take timely directions from air traffic control, and to sense and avoid manned aircraft and other UAS.
Driven by the desire to maximise compliance with registration requirements, the task force’s recommendations call on s-UAS owners merely to provide their names and addresses to a web-based database before operating their aircraft. However, the NBAA believes that providing optional information such as an email address, phone number and serial number of the UAS could prove important.
“While NBAA concurs with most of the task force’s recommendations, the association would like to see the registration process require that UAS owners provide their email address,” said Sarah Wolf. “Having email addresses for operators could facilitate the distribution of vital educational information about how to operate UAS safely in the NAS.”
NBAA personnel have participated in UAS working groups through RTCA for nearly 10 years, and the association has published expansive online resources covering developments in the UAS industry of importance to the business aviation community.
- Report and photography by John King.
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