Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS)

Even with the rapid growth of Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS) or drones, one of the FAA’s primary rules is that the pilot must maintain visual line of sight with the unmanned aircraft at all times. When waivers were granted for “extended line of sight” operations, visual observers on the ground were still required. Those operational constraints are about to change.

Collaborative projects between private industry and the Universities of Alaska-Fairbanks and Hawaii are transforming dreams into reality for the unmanned aircraft community. These technological accomplishments are laying the foundations to provide vital services to rural and outlying communities through long-distance search and rescue, surveying and telecommunications platforms mounted onboard solar powered drones.


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On May 22, 2019, the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs (OIRA), which is part of the Office of Management and Budget (OMB), published the Trump Administration’s Unified Agenda of Regulatory and Deregulatory Actions, better known as the Unified Agenda.

The Unified Agenda indicates that the Federal Aviation Administration’s (FAA) promulgation of the Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) for Remote Identification of UAS is being delayed. The NPRM had been scheduled for July 2019 but is now slated for release in September 2019.


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The FAA has continued to publish a variety of new opportunities and restrictions for Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS) pilots after the waves of actual and threatened shutdowns receded. At the end of January, Megan Herr described the FAA’s proposals for allowing UAS operations at night, and operations over people without needing a Part 107 waiver. The public comment period on these proposed rules ends on April 15, 2019.

On February 13th and 15th the FAA published two important restrictions for UAS operations.
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Even though the FAA Federal Aviation Administration (“FAA”) was hamstrung during the partial government shutdown, the Administration released two draft documents that will soon be published in the Federal Register. Both rulemaking documents would relax regulations on the use of small unmanned aerial systems (“UAS”) for commercial purposes under 14 Code of Federal Regulations Part 107 (“Part 107”).
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Agribusiness professionals are already proficient with a variety of federal regulations (USDA, EPA, etc.) but adding an unmanned aircraft system (“UAS”) into the business brings another agency into the mix – the Federal Aviation Administration – with its own set of regulations. In some scenarios this added regulatory burden may be worthwhile because UAS can be used to perform crop protection product (“CPP”) spraying operations (“spraying”) on crops more efficiently than manned aircraft, saving money for both farmers and consumers. Yamaha Motor Corporation, USA (“Yamaha”) recently announced it has been granted an FAA exemption for its FAZER unmanned aircraft system (“UAS”) to be used for agricultural spraying.


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The proverbial hacksaw inside a prisoner’s birthday cake has been supplanted by a new technological trend for bringing contraband into the jailhouse – Unmanned Aircraft Systems (“UAS”). As early as 2015, a fight broke out at the Mansfield Correctional Institution in Ohio when a drone carrying tobacco, marijuana, and heroin crashed into a yard inside the facility. That same year, a drone trafficking hacksaw blades, a cellphone, and Super Glue crashed into a maximum security prison in Oklahoma. Similar plots have been attempted in more than a dozen states nationwide, leading states like North Carolina, Tennessee, and Texas to ban drone flights over correctional facilities. Perhaps to save us from another pre-emption fight over UAS operational restrictions, the federal government is now following suit.

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droneThe U. S. Department of Transportation (“USDOT”) announced a diverse set of winners for the 10 openings in USDOT’s Unmanned Aircraft Systems (“UAS”) Integration Pilot Program (“IPP”). As advertised, the program’s selectees consist of state, local and tribal governments (“Selectees”) that will partner with private sector entities to accelerate UAS integration into the national airspace system.
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drone with cameraOn Tuesday December 12, 2017, President Trump signed into law the National Defense Authorization Act (“NDAA”). Section 1092(d) of the NDAA restores the requirement that owners of unmanned aircraft systems (“UAS”) used for recreational purposes (“Model Aircraft”) must register and mark their UAS in accordance with the Federal Aviation Administration’s (“FAA”) “Registration and Marking Requirements for Small Unmanned Aircraft” published on December 16, 2015 (“Registration and Marking Requirements”).

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On May 19, 2017, the District of Columbia Circuit Court (the “D.C. Circuit Court”) issued a decision in Taylor v. Huerta, striking down a 2015 Federal Aviation Administration (“FAA”) Registration Rule (requiring owners of unmanned aircraft systems (“UAS”) weighing between 0.55–55 lbs. to pay a $5 fee and register their UAS with FAA) to the extent that it applies to model aircraft.  droneIn its published opinion, the D.C. Circuit Court ultimately held that FAA’s Registration Rule clearly conflicts with Section 336 of the FAA Modernization and Reform Act of 2012, which expressly prohibits FAA from promulgating and enforcing rules and regulations with respect to model aircraft. 
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Informational Maps Released to Accelerate UAS Authorizations

UAS droneAs part of its Low Altitude Authorization and Notification Capability (“LAANC”) initiative, the FAA has been working to provide more detailed maps of the airspace surrounding the nation’s airports in order to more clearly communicate to operators of unmanned aircraft systems (“UAS”) what airspace can be utilized for UAS operations.

Late last week, the FAA released the first batch of airspace maps (the “Maps”). By and large, the Maps identify airspace surrounding 200 smaller and more rural airports. Users can zoom in to view these airports and see individual 1 square mile grids, with the maximum above ground level (AGL) altitudes where drones may operate. As an example, the grids near Colorado Plains Regional Airport in Akron Colorado show maximum AGL altitudes ranging from 400 feet down to 0 feet.  The FAA intends to publish additional maps as part of the agency’s 56-day chart production cycle. Future distributions will address many of the nation’s largest airports.


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