March 11, 2015
Civilian Drone and Model Aircraft Constituencies to Be Impacted; 60-Day Public Comment Period Now Open
On February 23, the Federal Aviation Administration published in the Federal Register its long-awaited Notice of Proposed Rulemaking ("NPRM") concerning proposed regulations for small unmanned aircraft systems ("sUASs") weighing under 55 pounds. The NPRM culminates over six years of agency work, and follows two years of legal challenges, advocacy and vigorous public debate concerning the current and future regulatory framework for civilian drones.
Some of the NPRM's more nuanced contents may raise issues for various operator and manufacturer constituencies in commercial, academic, humanitarian and hobbyist contexts. In this Alert, we analyze in detail certain aspects of the NPRM that may affect key stakeholders and that raise notable aspects of the rulemaking process as our clients and friends head into the critical 60-day comment period, which ends April 24.
Among other things, the Alert examines:
- The potential impact on academic, educational and research uses of remotely controlled model airplanes and aerial robotics
- The potential impact on recreational model aircraft enthusiasts including an apparent back-door attempt to impose regulations
- The apparent significance of the omission of model aircraft developers and manufacturers from the NPRM
- Questions raised about volunteer, uncompensated and humanitarian operations
- The proposed visual line of sight limitation
- The proposed restriction on night operations
- Registration requirements and complications for non-U.S. systems and operators
- A "micro" UAS (low-weight) alternative proposed framework
- The significance of the FAA's invocation of Section 333, rather than Section 332, of the FAA Modernization and Reform Act of 2012, as the basis for its rulemaking
- Apparent omissions in the FAA's economic cost/benefit analysis