In the last few weeks, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) Reauthorization bills have made their way around both houses of Congress, which will allow funding to the FAA to continue beyond Fall 2017. These bills contain lengthy and significant language that could greatly affect commercial and hobbyist drone operations in the U.S. Below is a summary of the main provisions in the House’s bill:

  • UAS Traffic Management (UTM) System: Directs the FAA to initiate rulemaking within 18 months to establish procedures for issuing air navigation facility certificates to operators of low-altitude UTM systems.
  • Risk-Based Permitting Process: Establishes a risk-based permitting process to authorize UAS operations that meet certain safety standards.
  • Small UAS Air Carrier Certificate: Establishes an air carrier certificate for operators of small UAS for package delivery.
  • Beyond Visual Line of Sight (BVLOS) Operations at FAA Test Sites: Extends the FAA test site program and directs the FAA to permit BVLOS UAS flights if the UAS is equipped with sense-and-avoid technology at test sites.
  • UAS Privacy Review: Requires a Department of Transportation (DOT) study on the privacy implications of UAS operations.
  • UAS Registration: Directs the DOT to assess the FAA’s small UAS registration system and requires FAA to develop and track metrics and effectiveness of the system.
  • Role of State and Local Governments: Directs the DOT to study the potential roles of state and local governments in the regulation of low-altitude small UAS operations.
  • Pay-to-Play: Requires Comptroller General to study appropriate fee mechanisms to recover the costs of regulation and oversight of UAS.

The Senate also put together its own version of the bill:

  • New Privacy Policy Requirement: Requires commercial UAS operators to have a publically available written privacy policy related to data collected via UAS. Newsgatherers would be exempt from this requirement.
  • New Database of Commercial and Government UAS Operations: Requires the FAA to establish a public database that includes drone operator’s name, e-mail address, phone number, and UAS registration number.
  • Safety Design Standards for UAS Manufacturers: Directs FAA to create an aviation rulemaking committee to develop design and production standards for UAS.
  • Review of Privacy Issues: Requires Comptroller General to conduct and submit a review of privacy issues and concerns related to UAS operations.
  • UAS Test Sites: Continues test site funding through  September 2021.
  • UAS Safety Enforcement: Requires FAA to establish a program for remote detection and identification technologies for safety oversight.
  • Airport Hazard Mitigation and Enforcement: Directs the FAA to work with Department of Defense and Department of Homeland Security to develop and test counter-UAS systems.
  • Package Delivery: Requires FAA to issue a final rule authorizing carriage of property by small UAS within 1 year.
  • Collegiate Training Initiative: Establishes a Collegiate Training Initiative program.
  • Improvements to Part 107 Waiver Process: Directs FAA to publish safety justification for each waiver granted/regulation waived and update the online waiver/authorization portal.
  • Study Role of Federal, State and Local Governments: Directs the Comptroller General to conduct a study regarding roles of federal, state and local governments in regulating UAS.
  • New Criminal Offenses for Unsafe UAS Operations: Establishes criminal penalties for UAS operators who knowingly and willfully interfere with manned aircraft operations.

We will follow these bills closely to see how it all plays out.