In the FAA Extension legislation, Congress implemented important safety provisions related to drones (also known as unmanned aircraft systems or “UAS”). The language, which President Obama signed into law late last week, addresses UAS operations involving airports, critical infrastructure, and emergency response.

A bipartisan group of leaders in the House of Representatives and the Senate agreed to a language to extend the funding for the FAA through September 2017 at the current funding levels. The legislation is not a full reauthorization of the FAA, but it does contain new provisions that aren’t typically incorporated into a temporary extension. The legislation makes the following UAS-related changes:

  • Streamlines processes for approval and interagency cooperation to deploy unmanned aircraft during emergencies, such as disaster responses and wildfires;
  • Prohibits unmanned aircraft operators from interfering with emergency response activities, including wildfire suppression, and raises civil penalties up to $20,000 for those found in violation;
  • Creates new processes to detect, identify, and mitigate unauthorized operation of unmanned aircraft around airports and critical infrastructure;
  • Allows certain facilities, including critical infrastructure, energy production, transmission, and distribution, refineries, amusement parks and others to request a designation from the FAA disallowing UAS operations within a “close proximity;” and
  • Requires sUAS manufacturers to include with the aircraft a safety and informational statement to provide sUAS owners with a background of the FAA regulations.

More broadly, the inclusion of UAS safety language in this legislation shows there is bipartisan, bicameral agreement on many issues related to UAS and their integration into the National Airspace System.