Under the FAA Modernization and Reform Act of 2012, enacted February 14, 2012 (the “Act”), the Federal Aviation Administration (“FAA”) was charged with completing a rulemaking to integrate small unmanned aircraft systems (“UAS”), or drones, into U.S. airspace by September 30, 2015.  See Sec. 332(a)(3) of the Act.  However, the FAA has failed to meet that deadline. 

In response to the FAA’s failure to pass UAS rules, a group of 29 UAS advocates (including the Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International) sent a letter to the FAA encouraging the agency to complete the rulemaking process.  The advocates “urge the FAA to use all available means to finalize the small UAS rules immediately without any further delays.”

The FAA’s difficulties in meeting UAS-related deadlines has been ongoing.  The House of Representatives Appropriations Committee noted the problem in a report issued in May 2014.  In the report, the Committee stated its concern and appropriated further funds to aid the FAA to complete its rulemaking: “The Committee is concerned that the FAA may not be well positioned to manage effectively the introduction of UAS in the United States. . . . Given these challenges, the Committee has provided an additional $3,000,000 in the Aviation Safety Activity to expedite the integration of UAS into commercial airspace.” 

Privacy advocates are eagerly anticipating such rules and have taken steps to encourage the FAA to begin a privacy-focused rulemaking process for UAS.  For example, in a letter dated February 24, 2012, the Electronic Privacy Information Center (“EPIC”) petitioned the FAA to conduct a notice-and-comment rulemaking on the impact of privacy and civil liberties related to the use UAS in the United States.  Among other requests, EPIC asked that the rulemaking take into consideration the ability of an individual to obtain a restraining order against a UAS. In a letter dated November 26, 2014 the FAA denied EPIC’s petition, stating “the FAA has begun a rulemaking addressing civil operation of small unmanned aircraft systems in the national airspace system.”

According to an analysis of draft UAS regulations obtained by the Wall Street Journal late last year, the regulations “are expected to require operators to have a license and limit flights to daylight hours, below 400 feet and within sight of the person at the controls.”  See  Jack Nicas and Andy Pasztor,“Drone Flights Face FAA Hit”, Wall St. J., Nov. 24, 2014.  According to the article, however, the new regulations would not address privacy concerns over the use of UAS, people familiar with the matter said. 

The letter written by the group of 29 UAS organizations can be found here.  The House of Representatives Appropriations Committee Report can be found here.  The FAA Modernization and Reform Act of 2012 can be found here.  The Wall Street Journal article can be found here