OIG Report and the FAA Special Model Aircraft Rule Interpretation

Would-be entrepreneurs and investors in small UAS (“drones”) were made more frustrated recently by two reports from the federal government involving FAA. Both relate to commercial use of airborne technologies. The first is an “interpretive rule” from FAA regarding model airplanes, and the second is a federal OIG report on FAA’s lack of progress integrating UAS into the national airspace (NAS).

The commercial drone community is rightly upset. A “green light” for light UAS with reasonable expedited rules now would release creative energy and entrepreneurship for a nation that is still struggling in a largely jobless recovery. Moreover, national privacy regulations on the use of drones both large and small may alleviate fears of drones obtaining personal data that many operators and the public at large alike have concerns about.   We need guidance for safe operations and safe harbors, not what many see as  administrative turf-building.

I. FAA Interpretive Rule addressing Special Rule for Model Aircraft

On June 18, 2014, FAA Administrator Michael Huerta released FAA’s Interpretive Rule regarding Section 336’s admonition that “the Administrator of the Federal Aviation Administration
may not promulgate any rule or regulation regarding a model
aircraft, or an aircraft being developed as a model aircraft” as long as several rules are followed.

This has caused quite a stir, including from the Academy of Model Aeronautics (AMA), the 77 year old nationwide community-based membership association which manages and oversees model aircraft activity in the United States.  In a press release, AMA President Bob Brown stated: “The FAA interpretive rule effectively negates Congress’ intentions, and is contrary to the law. Section 336(a) of the Public Law states that, ‘the Federal Aviation Administration may not promulgate any rule or regulation regarding a model aircraft…’, this interpretive rule specifically addresses model aircraft, effectively establishes rules that model aircraft were not previously subject to and is in direct violation of the congressional mandate in the 2012 FAA reauthorization bill.”

While a plain reading of Section 336 would seem to make clear Congress’ intention that FAA keep a hands-off approach as to model airplanes – unless a model airplane is used in a manner to interfere with manned aircraft operations – this new FAA Interpretive Rule performs mental gymnastics to divine new authority to regulate model airplane activity anyway, as long as the regulation affects all aircraft in general and is not regulating model airplane activity only.

In a document stating AMA’s objections, AMA states “we believe the Interpretive Rule as a whole is in essence a backdoor approach to enacting new regulatory requirements without complying with the congressionally mandated Administrative Procedures Act.”

Forbes contributor John Goglia writes:

Instead of issuing clear rules or better yet exemptions, especially for very small unmanned aerial vehicles, the FAA has issued more confusing guidance that is likely to be ignored by many hobbyists and commercial operators.   What the FAA needs to do is stop issuing confusing guidance and start issuing rules or exemptions .

What Can I Do?

The public is Invited to File Their Comments to FAA’s “Interpretive Rule. ” From the AMA:

There are four methods to submit a comment. Emailing your comment is the fastest and most convenient method. All comments must include the docket number FAA-2014-0396. Tips for submitting your comments.

1) Email: Go to http://www.regulations.gov. Follow the online instructions for sending your comments electronically.

2) Mail: Send Comments to Docket Operations, M-30; US Department of Transportation, 1200 New Jersey Avenue, SE., West Building Ground Floor, Room W12-140, West Building Ground Floor, Washington, DC 20590-0001.

3) Hand Delivery: Take comments to Docket Operations in Room W12-140 of the West Building Ground Floor at 1200 New Jersey Avenue, SE., Washington, DC, between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m., Monday through Friday, except Federal holidays.

4) Fax: (202) 493-2251.

DEADLINE TO COMMENT:  On or before July 25, 2014

II. Federal OIG Finds FAA Far Behind UAS Integration

About a week after the FAA announced its new “interpretation” of the Special Rule for Model Aircraft, the Office of Inspector General released a report stating the FAA “is significantly behind schedule in meeting most of the UAS-related provisions of the FAA Modernization and Reform Act, including the August 2014 milestone for issuing a final rule on small UAS operations.”

For example, the OIG report states :

Although FAA established a UAS Integration Office, it has not clarified lines of reporting or established clear guidance for UAS regional inspectors on authorizing and overseeing UAS operations. Until FAA addresses these barriers, UAS integration will continue to move at a slow pace, and safety risks will remain.

It is obvious that extensive aircraft certification, pilot qualification, and sense-and-avoid technologies must be developed and safely implemented with regard to large drones (UAS). But why not , promulgate simple proposed rules for sUAS in an expedited manner? Commercial operators are proceeding now without any guidance from FAA, regardless of the perceived illegality. The absence of a “green light” from FAA is choking what can be a tremendous economic engine for transformative technologies and the jobs for implementing them. A national privacy policy on use of drones, too,  would be helpful both substantively and to alleviate unnecessary fears.

III. One Unexpected Example of Creative Use of Drone Technology

An internet blogger, @fightcopyrightrolls alerted me to an amazing video of a drone being used for a “best seat in the house” view of fireworks – from the sky itself. Just as I did not fathom this use, there are many others whose work with drones and other robotics will  bring enjoyment and commerce to a nation that can use more of both.

Fireworks filmed with a drone – Jos Stiglingh

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Also see: Motherboard: Drone Pilots Are Gearing Up for a Fight Against the FAA’s New ‘Rules’

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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