FAA Guidance Document Identifies Specific Actions for Police Agencies to Take for Unauthorized UAS Use

HIGHLIGHTS:

  • The FAA's Law Enforcement Guidance for Suspected Unauthorized UAS Operations notes that state and local law enforcement agencies "are often in the best position to deter, detect, immediately investigate, and, as appropriate, pursue enforcement actions to stop unauthorized or unsafe UAS operations."
  • The FAA's decision to enlist state and local police signals the difficulty the agency faces in enforcing its ban on UAS commercial use.
  • Delays by the FAA in releasing proposed regulations governing small UAS use is frustrating to lawmakers as it is causing technology development to move overseas.

The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has issued new written guidance that enlists police departments to help enforce the government's ban on the commercial use of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAS) in the national air space.

Noting that commercial companies and others increasingly "continue to demonstrate significant interest in UAS," the FAA's Law Enforcement Guidance for Suspected Unauthorized UAS Operations reports that state and local law enforcement agencies "are often in the best position to deter, detect, immediately investigate, and, as appropriate, pursue enforcement actions to stop unauthorized or unsafe UAS operations." The guidance, released on Jan. 8, 2015, states that, while the FAA – and not state or local police – is responsible to enforce federal law, an FAA official "will often be unable to immediately travel to the location of an incident."

The guidance document instructs state and local police that, in the event of unauthorized UAS use, they should take the following actions:

  • identify and interview witnesses
  • identify the suspected UAS operators
  • record images and create diagrams of the location and conditions of the UAS use
  • identify restricted airspace in the region
  • immediately notify the FAA
  • collect evidence

The FAA's decision to enlist state and local police signals the difficulty the agency faces to enforce its ban on UAS commercial use as it continues to delay regulations governing small UAS use and technology continues to become more widely available to consumers. (See FAA's Jan. 8, 2015, press release.) The FAA Modernization and Reform Act of 2012 requires the FAA to develop and implement a comprehensive plan to safely integrate UAS into the national airspace by September 2015, including the issuance of a final rule addressing the use of small UAS. After years of delays, publication of the small UAS proposed rule was expected before the end of 2014 – but the FAA has yet to publish a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking.

Lawmakers Frustrated with FAA's Delay of Proposed Rule and Exemptions

Last month, lawmakers expressed their frustration with the continued delay in the issuance of a proposed rule during a hearing of the U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure's Subcommittee on Aviation. House members expressed concern that delays in establishing a regulatory framework for UAS in the U.S. were causing companies to move research and development activities overseas, and urged the FAA to work closely with industry and UAS test sites in developing data in support of new regulations.

Members also urged FAA to expedite processing of exemptions from its ban on commercial drone usage, which are permitted under Section 333 of the Modernization and Reform Act. To date, FAA has granted 14 Section 333 exemptions, including two new exemptions granted on Jan. 6, 2015. The Section 333 exemptions are subject to stringent conditions and are limited to the specific uses described in the petitions for exemption, which include use in closed-set filmmaking, aerial survey work, monitoring of construction sites, inspection of offshore oil production platforms, agricultural purposes and aerial filming for realty purposes.