HIGHLIGHTS:

  • Today, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) released a report recommending a new regulatory framework for the flight of unmanned aircraft systems (UAS), or drones, over people.
  • The report represents the consensus position of more than two dozen industry expert organizations – including a coalition of news companies that Holland & Knight represents – and specifically recommends that the FAA adopt a four-tier framework for UAS flights over people.
  • This is a major first step in efforts to win government approval for journalists to safely use UAS to gather news in cities.

Today, April 6, a panel of industry experts assembled by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) submitted its report recommending a new regulatory framework for the flight of unmanned aircraft systems (UAS), or drones, over people. The report is a major first step in efforts to win government approval for journalists to safely use UAS to gather news in cities.

This report presents the FAA with a risk-based approach to allow for small UAS flights over people under certain conditions. The FAA plans to use it to develop a notice of proposed rulemaking expected by December 2016.

The report represents the consensus position of more than two dozen organizations – including a coalition of news companies – invited by the FAA to join an aviation rulemaking committee (ARC) on the safe integration of UAS. Holland & Knight participated in the ARC on behalf of our client, the News Media Coalition, a group of 22 leading news media organizations in the United States.

On Feb. 15, 2015, the FAA published a notice of proposed rulemaking entitled "Operation and Certification of Small Unmanned Aircraft Systems." In this notice, the FAA requested public comment on whether the agency should create a "microUAS" category of lightweight UAS that could operate over people.

The FAA, however, later decided that the final rule governing small UAS operations, which the agency expects to release this summer, will not contain a separate microUAS category and also will not allow for operations over people. Instead, the FAA established the ARC last month to assist in developing a separate rulemaking for flights over people. Unlike the earlier proposed rulemaking, the ARC was asked to develop recommendations based on performance standards, rather than weight classes.

The FAA expects to release the notice of proposed rulemaking on overhead flights in December 2016. The final rule likely will not be finalized before the second half of 2017.

The ARC report to FAA recommends a subcategory of small UAS that can be safely flown over people. The report also recommends certification criteria and operational limitations. Specifically, the ARC recommends that the FAA adopt a four-tier framework for UAS flights over people. UAS posing the least risk would be permitted to operate with little restriction, while those posing a greater risk would be permitted to fly only with in accordance with a written risk mitigation plan.

Meanwhile, Congress is also considering FAA reauthorization legislation that would include statutory requirements for small UAS flights over people.

Information contained in this alert is for the general education and knowledge of our readers. It is not designed to be, and should not be used as, the sole source of information when analyzing and resolving a legal problem. Moreover, the laws of each jurisdiction are different and are constantly changing. If you have specific questions regarding a particular fact situation, we urge you to consult competent legal counsel.