The FAA Modernization and Reform Act of 2012 established a foundation for government and industry collaboration to advance the integration of unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) into the National Airspace System (NAS). As directed by this legislation, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) established rules for commercial and civil use of small UAS (systems weighing 55 lbs. or less). Known as Part 107, the small UAS rule took effect on August 29, 2016. The FAA Extension, Safety, and Security Act of 2016 further took steps to advance UAS research, expand commercial operations and enhance the safety of the national airspace for all users – manned and unmanned. The FAA also established the Drone Advisory Committee (DAC) on May 4, 2016 to bring together key stakeholders from across government, academia and the aviation industry to determine how to safely integrate UAS into the national airspace.
A lot of work has been accomplished, but more needs to be done. Whether within the context of the small UAS rule, through a FAA reauthorization, proposed DAC actions, by future rulemaking, or by other means, AUVSI has outlined the following 2017 policy priorities to accelerate full UAS integration, promote safety and advance research.
Prioritize FAA Budget to Advance UAS Industry Growth. Recently, the FAA tasked the DAC to look at additional ways to fund the FAA’s UAS-related activities. However, imposing more federal fees on a still nascent industry could restrict its growth, and could be premised on faulty assumptions about the nature of the industry. UAS operators who use existing airport or traditional aviation system resources currently pay the associated fees for those facilities or services.
The need for a more expansive regulatory structure to foster its economic and innovative growth needs to be balanced with funding needs. Therefore, AUVSI urges the FAA to appropriately prioritize its budget request to Congress in order to facilitate the necessary regulatory actions for UAS integration efforts.
As UAS regulations progress, there should be future discussions on UAS service-based government fees. These fees could be based on a pay-what-you-use model, with costs equitably allocated among different classes of users. For instance, the UAS Traffic Management (UTM) system that the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) is currently developing could evolve as a private-sector or public-private model. To the extent that UTM relies on or uses government resources, it will be necessary to decide how UTM should contribute to the cost of the associated government operations.
Ensuring Full Integration of UAS into the National Airspace System. Over the past several years, the FAA has made tremendous progress to enable the small UAS (defined here as those falling under 14 CFR §107), but there remains industry demand for a parallel and simultaneous effort to facilitate the integration of UAS at all altitudes and in all classes of airspace. Leadership, coordination, and collaboration in this space between industry and government partners is absolutely critical to ensure the United States retains its trailblazer status in this international industry. AUVSI applauds the creation of the Controlled Airspace Advisory Rulemaking Committee (ARC) and see this as a positive outgrowth of the UAS ARC, which was sunset several years ago.
In light of this, AUVSI is calling for the FAA, in coordination with industry stakeholders, to develop a Large UAS roadmap in order to develop the regulatory path forward for certification, equipage, and operational requirements. The roadmap should highlight the need for harmonization of efforts among the various Federal stakeholders who are working to address the needs of this particular segment of the industry. The roadmap should also make clear what the responsibilities of industry are, in order to remove uncertainty and align expectations among stakeholders.
Urge the FAA to Publish Procedures for Civil Operators to Conduct Emergency Operations. Under Section 2207 of the 2016 FAA Extension, Congress directed the FAA to publish guidance for “applications for, and procedures for the processing of, on an emergency basis, exemptions or certificates of authorization or waiver for the use of [UAS] by civil or public operators in response to a catastrophe, disaster, or other emergency to facilitate emergency response operations, such as firefighting, search and rescue, and utility and infrastructure restoration efforts.” The FAA guidance was to be published by October 13, 2016, but that deadline has passed and there are still no guidelines. AUVSI urges the FAA to publish procedures for conducting emergency operations by civil operators without further delay.
Push the FAA to Establish a Mechanism for Facilities to Qualify as “Critical Infrastructure.” Under Section 2209 of the 2016 FAA Extension, Congress tasked the FAA to establish a process for designating fixed site facilities. The FAA tasked the DAC to look at the roles and responsibilities across federal, state, and local jurisdictions that are impacted by this specific requirement. AUVSI and its members are participating in those discussions and recommend the FAA employ a narrow definition, looking at Title 18 of U.S. Code 2339D for guidance, of “critical infrastructure” and “other locations that warrant such restrictions.” Maintaining a broad and open definition could unnecessarily restrict the industry and lead to a patchwork of state and local level laws and no-drone zones. The mechanism to consider identifying facilities under this requirement should create a standard and allow state and local input.
Section 2209 gives the FAA flexibility to “prohibit or restrict” the operation of UAS “in close proximity” to these facilities. Thus, the FAA is not locked into a one-size-fits-all approach. For example, it could impose restrictions on operations around some types of facilities and prohibitions on flights over others. The FAA should establish the least restrictive process to meet the intent of 2209. It should also incorporate a waiver process similar to that provided in Part 107. This would allow applicants maximum flexibility to fly in proximity to fixed site facilities if they can demonstrate lowest level of risk. Certificates of authorization (COAs) issued under 2207 should also cover pertinent 2209 restrictions.
Encourage a Coordinated Federal Spectrum Policy for UAS. The availability of spectrum to UAS is paramount for the safety of our skies. In addition to dedicated spectrum for command and control at higher altitudes, the anticipated development of sophisticated sense-and-avoid technology and the transmission of payload data represent functionalities that will require significant spectrum resources. A dialogue among all the federal agencies involved in spectrum and UAS stakeholders, including the commercial spectrum license holders, should be facilitated and fostered. Such a dialogue is imperative to diminish inefficiencies and constraints on the UAS industry that might otherwise result from the implementation of a haphazard spectrum strategy.
As the regulatory body that governs the use of spectrum, the Federal Communications Commission’s (FCC) direct work on spectrum regulations can speak to FAA’s ongoing development of risk-based performance standards to support a broader operational environment for different classes of UAS in different airspace. A key component of such safe operations will be the integration of communications links into vehicles, and the ability of those links to meet applicable performance standards appropriate to various altitudes, vehicles and types of operations. In addition, the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA), as the manager of spectrum resources for federal users, and NASA, in its role of developing UTM for low-altitude operations, will have views that need to be incorporated into a cohesive spectrum strategy.
Monitor Discussion on Air Traffic Control Reform. As UAS operations become more complex, there will be a higher reliance on ensuring those systems seamlessly integrate into the NAS and the air traffic management system. A significant public and privately funded effort is already underway to develop a UTM concept that could address those needs for small UAS operating at low altitude. However, a cohesive strategy is still needed to move this concept or demonstration to a fully operational capability. It is already showing potential to scale for higher altitudes and UAS that weigh more than 55 lbs. Therefore, AUVSI will continue to monitor the ATC reform discussion that began in the 114th Congress and determine its impact on the certification of a UTM system and/or other UAS-related air navigation facilities.
Enable the FAA to Move Forward with UAS Regulations to Enhance Safety & Security. UAS regulations are currently on hold due to intergovernmental security-related concerns, but establishing regulations for expanded UAS operations will help to enhance the safety and security of the national airspace. AUVSI recommends more federal coordination and delineation of roles and responsibilities. Specifically, the FAA should release its notice of proposed rulemaking to modify Part 107 to allow for small-UAS operations over people for comment. At the same time, the government should initiate industry collaboration to help meet the congressional requirement in Section 2202 of the 2016 FAA Extension for remote identification standards.
Additionally, the FAA should lead an effort to produce a concept of operations in support of the development and implementation of a UTM system. This plan should account for identification, de-confliction, and mitigation of UAS in the NAS, which are key tenets of the UTM concept. All of these steps are essential to advancing UAS operations and ensure the safety and security for all aircraft.