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Congress Directs FAA to Modify Drone Laws

The FAA Reauthorization Act signed by the President last October will provide funding for the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) for the next five years, it will also lead to a number of substantive changes to the rules governing small unmanned aircraft systems (“UAS”). Many are hoping that this new law will push the FAA to move more quickly towards integrating UAS into the national airspace system.

The FAA Reauthorization Act repeals Section 336, under which currently all hobbyist drone operators fly. Going forward all drone pilots may be required to register their aircraft and take an aeronautical knowledge test. Current regulations require hobbyist to register their aircraft but not pass their Part 107 aeronautical knowledge test.

The below list highlights some of the major directives to the FAA.

  • UAS Traffic Management: The FAA will test new traffic management systems and deploy the capabilities as they come online, rather than waiting for a complete system to be finished.

  • Remote ID: Remote ID will allow the FAA, law enforcement, etc., to identify the pilot or operator of a UAS that is not flying in accordance with regulations, similar to a license plate.

  • Additional Waiver Authority: Congress provided the FAA with authority to grant blanket waivers (as opposed to case-by-case waivers) outside the rule making context.

  • Support for Existing Programs: The legislation extended existing FAA programs that provide for UAS test ranges, the UAS Integration Pilot Program, and Arctic operations zones.

  • Equipment Certification and Standards: The FAA was instructed to begin creating and adopting safety standards for UAS, using risk and performance based analyses.

  • Tethered UAS: Congress made a distinction between free-flying UAS and tethered UAS, allowing the FAA to create more permissive rules for tethered operations.

  • Drone Deliveries: The FAA was directed to make new rules governing the carriage of property using UAS, bringing package delivery closer to reality.

  • Authority over “Hobbyist” UAS: Congress repealed previous restrictions on the FAA’s authority to regulate ‘hobbyist’ or recreational flights.

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