Routine Beyond Visual Line of Sight (BVLOS) operations for unmanned aircraft took a major step forward yesterday, with the release of the long-awaited report from the Aviation Rulemaking Committee (ARC) tasked with making recommendations for the next major FAA rulemaking.

Current regulations do not provide a straightforward, comprehensive method for obtaining permission for BVLOS operations or for scaling up those operations into a meaningful system that can achieve widespread benefits for society.  In order to change this, the ARC has laid out a framework for what the new FAA BVLOS regulations should look like.

The ARC makes five recommendations in its 381-page report, including:

  1. That the FAA set an acceptable level of risk (ALR) for UAS that is consistent across all types of operations being performed. The proposal envisions that operators will have maximum flexibility to mitigate these risks with an approach tailored to the specifics of the operations.
  2. Changes to 14 C.F.R. 91.113 and the requirement for aircraft to “see-and-avoid” other aircraft and the right-of-way rules for aircraft operating within 100 feet of a structure or below 400 feet. Manned aircraft with ADS-B or TABS would have the right of way over unmanned aircraft in these areas, but the unmanned aircraft would have the right of way over manned aircraft that are not equipped with ADS-B or TABS.
  3. Creating a new rating for Part 107 Remote Pilot Certificates that would cover BVLOS operations. The new rating would come with new testing requirements which would be based on specific UA systems, use cases, and operational restrictions.
  4. Establishment of a new BVLOS Rule which includes a process for qualification of UA and UAS, applicable to aircraft up to 800,000 ft-lb of kinetic energy.
  5. Adoption of a regulatory system that would permit third parties to offer services that would support BVLOS operations, including unmanned traffic management, communications, and data management.

The ARC was made up of 86 members, covering a wide range of interests, including trade associations, unions, think-tanks and non-governmental organizations (NGOs).  While the recommendations were supported by a plurality, they were not unanimous.  The vote on the final report was as follows:

    • 44        Concur as Written
    • 20        Concur with Comment
    • 10        Non-Concur
    • 8          No Ballot Submitted
    • 4          Abstentions

The “Non-Concurring” voters included a number of entities associated with the manned aviation industry or privacy issues, including the Aerospace Industries Association (AIA), Air Line Pilots Association (ALPA), Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association (AOPA), American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU),  Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC), General Aviation Manufacturers Association (GAMA), Helicopter Association International (HAI), and Praxis Aerospace Concepts (PACI).

An examination of the dissent to the report filed by six of these members – AIA, AOPA, ALPA, GAMA, HAI and PACI – shows that this group’s opposition goes beyond merely being “non-concurring.”  The group states that the recommendations will have a substantial negative impact on the safe integration of UAS into the airspace, and further claims that:

The final report possesses neither a coherent structure nor clear guidance upon which the FAA can be reasonably expected to act.  Furthermore, there are significant misrepresentations throughout the narrative that inaccurately reflect (or completely neglect to mention) the disagreements and dissent of stakeholders across ARC memberships.

The group goes on to complain about the procedures followed by the ARC from its inception, including a “lack of transparency and fairness offered to ARC membership.  Verbal and written comments and dissents have been ignored, not offered full plenary discussions and adjudication, or given inaccurate representation.”

As the FAA moves forward with its rulemaking, we can be sure we will be hearing more from these organizations during the required Notice and Comment process.