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Focus on Regulation

Moving UAS Policy Boundaries Forward: Flights Near People (Take-Two)

Earlier this week the FAA announced the creation of a new aviation rulemaking (ARC) committee to study and recommend rules for authorizing some unmanned aircraft systems (UAS or drones) to fly over people.  The task force will be composed of various industry stakeholders, including UAS manufacturers, operators, academics and trade organizations.  The recommendations made by this task force, and the rules ultimately adopted by the FAA for operating UAS over people, could significantly affect not only how UAS are manufactured, but where and how commercial UAS operators can fly.

In the FAA’s Small UAS Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) released in February of last year, the FAA contemplated a “micro” UAS classification that would have allowed UAS weighing no more than 4.4 pounds and constructed of frangible materials to operate over any persons, including members of the public not involved in the UAS operations or under a covered structure.  In response to comments received, the FAA decided that it needed more industry input before it could officially propose a micro UAS rule.

According to the FAA, the task force will discuss and develop recommendations to be submitted to the FAA, and which will form the basis of a separate NPRM on classification and operating rules for micro UAS. Specifically, the FAA’s Charter for the task force states that they will:

  • Develop recommendations for a performance-based standard for the classification of micro UAS. In developing the recommendation, the micro UAS ARC should consider, at a minimum, current and past research on human injury thresholds, hazard and risk assessment methodologies, and acceptable levels of risk to persons not directly participating in the operation.
  • Identify means-of-compliance for manufacturers to show that unmanned aircraft meet the performance-based safety requirement. The ARC should evaluate the use of consensus standards as a means of compliance, developing standardized test methods, and other means to demonstrate compliance with the standard. The ARC should also consider and recommend how the FAA and manufacturers should determine compliance with the performance-based standard.
  • Recommend operational requirements for micro UAS appropriate to the recommended performance-based safety requirement.
  • The micro UAS ARC will develop and submit to the FAA a recommendation report by April 1, 2016.

As we previously blogged about here, the ability to operate near and over people is critical for a wide range of commercial UAS applications, especially those that typically need to occur in more urban and suburban environments, such as using UAS for media and newsgathering activities, and, someday, package deliveries.

While we still need to wait and see what recommendations are ultimately made by the task force, the fact that the FAA is undertaking this process is a positive development for the commercial UAS industry. Now if we could only get a task force to look at rules for beyond visual-line-of-sight UAS operations…Stay tuned.