In Washington, D.C., the government is still shut down, and is digging out from a weekend storm that dropped a foot of snow.  Neither of these things, however, stopped Department of Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao from unveiling two long-awaited rulemaking efforts that will have a major impact on the future of the unmanned aircraft industry.

The first is a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) covering UAS flight over people and at night.  The rulemaking is intended to make it possible for people to conduct these types of operations without the need for a waiver.  The rules continue the FAA’s focus on a performance-based approach that is technologically neutral.  The FAA does not care what means you use to meet the standard, just that the standard is met.

For flight over people, the regulation breaks UAS down into three categories based on risk of injury.

  • Category 1: Includes all UAS weighing 0.55 pounds or less. These aircraft would be permitted to fly over people under Part 107 without any additional requirements.
  • Category 2: Inclusion in this category is not weight-based. Instead, the manufacturer must prove to the FAA that, in the event of a collision, the UAS would not injure a person more severely than if they were hit with a rigid object that transferred 11 ft-lbs of kinetic energy.  A UAS meeting these requirements can be flown under Part 107 without additional restrictions.
  • Category 3: This class is for UAS that would not produce an injury in a person struck more serious than if he or she were struck with a rigid object that transferred 25 ft-lbs of kinetic energy. Category 3 UAS would have additional operating limitations.  They could not operate over an open air assembly of people, must be conducted in a restricted access site, and would not be permitted to hover directly over people.

It should be noted, however, that the FAA made clear that the final flight over people rule will not be released until the UAS remote identification rulemaking is complete.

For night flights, the FAA will require additional knowledge testing and training and require the UAS to be equipped with an anti-collision light that is visible for at least 3 statute miles.

The second announcement is an Advance Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (ANPRM) seeking public comment on several different UAS safety and security issues.  The FAA is seeking input on:

  • Stand-Off Distances: Whether the FAA should require specific stand-off distances from persons and structures, what those distances should be, and how any new limits would impact operations and training.
  • Performance Limits: Whether there should be additional performance limitations on UAS, such as altitude and maximum speed, for certain types of UAS and certain operations.
  • Unmanned Traffic Management (UTM): How a UTM system should be operated, including what types of data the system should require and provide, what flights should have to utilize it, and what additional training should be required.
  • Payload Limits: Whether the list of prohibited payloads should be expanded, and if so, what items should be included, whether only certain types of UAS should carry hazardous items, and any time or location-based limits on carrying certain items.
  • Design Requirements: Whether there should be design requirements for UAS that conduct complex operations such as beyond visual line of sight flight, what the standards should be, and who should set the standards.

Secretary Chao indicated that the final versions of these draft notices will be published in the Federal Register as soon as possible.  When they are, it will start a 60-day Notice and Comment period during which the FAA will gather the views of the public.  If you have any interest in these issues, you should avail yourself of this opportunity.  Draft rules often change as a result of public comment, and the final rules are better as a result.

We will provide you with a full breakdown of the draft rules when the final versions are printed in the Federal Register.