In part three of Plane-ly Spoken’s look at the Senate’s version of the Aviation Innovation, Reform, and Reauthorization Act of 2016 (AIRR), we focus on some of the developments in the UAS field that the Senate wishes to promote.

First, the Bill seeks to speed development and use of detection systems to allow the FAA to find operators flying too close to airports or other restricted areas. The Senate would require the FAA to set up a prototype to demonstrate the capabilities of systems that have been developed by CACI Inc. and the Aerospace Corporation. Even more importantly, the FAA authorized the money necessary to do the work: $5 Million per year for the development and an additional $6 million for the demonstration. The Bill also requires the FAA to set up a reporting system for state and local law enforcement to report unsafe operations.

The Bill is similarly supportive of the NASA UAS Traffic Management System. It requires the FAA to plan and execute a demonstration project for UTM. It also requires planning to implement in the US Airspace permanent areas of operation of the UTM system.

While most of the amendments to the Bill made in Committee were not particularly significant, three of them do have the potential to continue to push UAS integration forward. First, the Senate Bill establishes a two year deadline for the FAA to create a new operating certificate for unmanned aircraft package delivery operators. The FAA was already heading down the certification road for package delivery, but the two-year requirement gives everyone a timeline they can plan around.

The second provision gives the FAA nine months to establish a rule for micro UAS that would not require a pilot’s certificate for aircraft under 2 Kg (4.4 lbs.), operated under limitations similar to model aircraft. This provision would have been more significant if the Reauthorization bill had passed last summer or fall as many expected, as the FAA has, since then, actually started the micro UAS rulemaking process with its ongoing ARC on performance based standards. Nonetheless, the Bill at least puts the FAA on notice that the Senate thinks the agency is headed in the right direction.

The third provision gives the FAA nine months to develop standards that would allow operation of UAS by institutions of “Higher Education” (defined in the amendment) similar to model aircraft operations. If they don’t complete the standards on time, the institutions can operate as if they were an Academy of Model Aeronautics field. This would be an enormous boon to universities around the country, as the constant iteration of UAS for university research and development is not well suited to the current FAA approval systems.

Given the significant differences between the House and Senate versions of the FAA Reauthorization, it is extremely unlikely that all the provisions of the Senate Bill will survive the process as currently written. Stay tuned and we will do our best to keep you informed as the story unfolds.