In a major new development, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has just sent to the White House Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs (OIRA) the proposed rulemaking for performance-based standards and means-of-compliance for the operation of small unmanned aircraft systems (UAS, or "drones") over unsheltered people not directly participating in the operation.

This is big news and an important step in moving drone policymaking forward. As most of you likely know, the current Part 107, which went into effect in August, does not allow for flights over unsheltered people not directly participating in the operation – in other words, anyone other than your remote pilot, visual observer, or anyone else essential to the flight operation.

But to take advantage of the safety and efficiency benefits of drones, companies need to be able to fly in urban and suburban environments, where people are. To use drones for disaster response, newsgathering, filmmaking, real estate, inspections, and more – it is critical that the government enable drone operations that reflect a real-world operating envelope.

This development means that a proposed rule for small UAS flights over people is coming soon. It also means that the White House is open to meeting with interested stakeholders during this time. Now is the last realistic opportunity to influence this proposed rule before it is publicly released for comment.

OIRA is located within the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) within the Executive Office of the President. It is commonly said that OIRA is the most important agency in Washington, D.C. that nobody has heard of. OIRA reviews draft regulations before they are implemented and reviews and evaluates cost/benefit analyses to determine whether the benefits of a rule would justify the costs.

As part of OIRA’s review process, any member of the public—including UAS manufacturers, operators, and users—can request a meeting with the agency to discuss the proposed rule, what it should contain, and how the rule will impact them. The meetings are conducted by the OIRA administrator or his designees, and a log of all meetings is publicly available.

A meeting with OIRA provides a golden opportunity for stakeholders to make their voices heard on this key policy and regulatory issue. The contours of the limitations and parameters for the eventual final rule for small drone flights over people will be largely shaped by the proposed rule, and thus companies that want to provide input on this vitally important issue and possible expansion of UAS operations now have the chance to provide their ideas directly to the White House.

We have significant experience with such OIRA meetings on UAS issues.