Last week, the FAA announced that it was lessening the regulatory requirements on schools, allowing students and faculty to use UAS (commonly known as drones) as part of their coursework. Additionally, the FAA announced that it was establishing a new long-term advisory committee that will advise the FAA on UAS issues. These two actions are incremental, yet promising, steps forward towards integrating UAS into the National Airspace System (“NAS”) and helping to develop the UAS industry in the United States.

Speaking at the Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International (“AUVSI”) conference, FAA Administrator Michael Huerta announced that the agency was going to lessen the current restrictions on student and faculty UAS operations for educational purposes. This will allow students and faculty to incorporate UAS into science, technology, and aviation classes, in addition to courses relating to film, television, and the arts, without applying to the FAA. Currently, students and faculty are required to receive a Section 333 exemption from the FAA before such course-related operations, which involves a number of regulatory requirements and an application process.

The FAA also clarified that individuals may operate UAS at educational institutions and community-sponsored events, such as science clubs and scouting organizations under the broad exception for hobby and recreational use, as long as they are not compensated. These flights are permitted so long as they abide by the FAA rules for hobby and recreational operations, including operating within visual line of sight and only during the daytime.

Additionally, the FAA announced at the AUVSI conference that it is developing a long-term multi-issue advisory committee which has been tasked with identifying and prioritizing UAS NAS integration challenges and improvements. This new advisory group will be chaired by Intel CEO Brian Krzanich and will consist of private industry, military, government, retailers, researchers, and other UAS thought leaders.

The FAA has recently used two similar committees to advise it on the UAS registration requirement developed in December 2015 (previously discussed on UAS Law Blog) and the recommendations regarding “micro” UAS and operations over non-participants (discussed here) from April 2016.