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FAA Publishes Drone Rulemaking Documents

February 14, 2019 - On Wednesday, the FAA published three separate rulemaking documents relating to small unmanned aerial systems, or sUAS. The notices concern rules that currently or may in the future apply to sUAS, which is a catch-all term for commercial and hobby aircraft (including traditional RC aircraft) weighing less than 55 pounds.

Registration Marks

Without prior notice, the FAA published an interim final rule (IFR) that requires registration markings on sUAS to be affixed to the exterior of the aircraft. Previously, such markings could be located inside a compartment that does not require tools to open, such as a battery or radio receiver compartment. The FAA made this change after concern from law enforcement that a drone or model aircraft fitted with an explosive device or other dangerous payload could cause harm to first responders if they were required to handle the aircraft in search of a registration marking.

The FAA considered the security concern significant enough to publish an IFR without first inviting comment. The rule therefore takes effect on February 25, however the FAA is accepting comments until March 15. The docket for the rule may be found here.

Flight Over People

While already published in an interim fashion during the government shutdown, the FAA formally posted the notice of proposed rulemaking (NPRM) on commercial sUAS over people on Wednesday. The rule, an amendment to Part 107, also establishes standards for sUAS operations at night, including anti-collision lights and training for operators. In brief, the rule would allow for three categories of aircraft authorized to fly over people:

Category 1: Aircraft weighing less than 0.55 pounds.

Category 2: Aircraft that would cause an impact of less than 11 foot-pounds of impact energy if it lost control.

Category 3: In limited-access sites where all occupants receive fair warning as to sUAS operations, aircraft that would cause an impact of less than 25 foot-pounds of impact energy if it lost control.

For Categories 2 and 3, the NPRM establishes procedures to document adherence to the rule by operators and aircraft.

The FAA is accepting comments until April 15. The docket for the rule may be found here.

Safe and Secure Operations

Finally, the FAA published an advance notice of proposed rulemaking (ANPRM) seeking public input on “Safe and Secure Operations of Small Unmanned Aerial Systems.” The ANPRM asks several questions of the public regarding five topics:

A. Stand-off distances.

B. Altitude, airspeed, and other performance limitations.

C. Unmanned traffic management (UTM) operations.

D. Payload restrictions.

E. Small UAS critical system design requirements.

Each topic is discussed in detail in the ANPRM. Input on these topics may be used in future rulemaking regarding sUAS. Comments are open until April 15, and the docket may be found here.

EAA will be evaluating each of these documents carefully and will comment as appropriate to ensure the continued safe integration of sUAS with manned aircraft.