In terms of major UAS rulemaking efforts, 2017 could best be described as “the year that wasn’t”.  While the FAA had big plans to push forward the new rules for flight over people and finalize the Interpretation of the Special Rules for Model Aircraft, neither of those initiatives saw the light of day.

Now, however, it appears that the FAA is gearing up the rulemaking process for 2018.  It is reported that in a recent speech at the Singapore Airshow, FAA Acting Deputy Administrator Carl Burleson announced that the UAS remote identification regulations would be out this year. 

As we previously reported, the “flight over people” rule was shelved early last year over concerns raised at OIRA that an increase in the ability to fly UAS over people and crowds would cause serious security concerns for federal, state, and local law enforcement.  Without some way of identifying a UAS in flight, it is impossible to know if an aircraft had permission to be in any given location.

As a result, in June 2017, the FAA convened an Aviation Rulemaking Committee (ARC) to study the problem.  The ARC returned its recommendations in December 2017, paving the way for a full blown rulemaking to set remote identification standards.  This, in turn, will presumably permit the flight over persons rule to move forward as well.

While there is little doubt that both rules could be released for public notice and comment in the first half of this year, it remains to be seen whether the final rules will be in a position to go into force before the years end.  Much will depend on how much opposition is generated to the proposals through the public comment process.

At the end of the day, while the public comment period may delay a final rule or result in some changes to the final rule, a comprehensive identification system will almost certainly be the end result.  Recent high profile incidents, such as the video of the UAS near McCarren International Airport and the midair collision between a DJI Phantom and a helicopter in New York continue to focus high level attention on the problem.

Hopefully, 2018 will shape up to be a good year for opening up more opportunities for complex UAS operations.