The use of unmanned aerial systems (UAS) continues to be an area of focus by Congress and federal agencies. On November 19, 2015, the House Energy and Commerce Committee (Committee) Subcommittee on Commerce, Manufacturing, and Trade (Subcommittee) convened a hearing titled “The Disrupter Series: The Fast-Evolving Uses and Economic Impacts of Drones.” The hearing, which featured testimony from the UAS industry, technology services industry, and academia, focused on the risks and benefits surrounding UAS. In particular, Subcommittee members addressed the growing popularity of both commercial and recreational UAS, the difficulty integrating them into U.S. airspace, federal and state regulations, and safety issues.
On November 20, 2015, the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) convened its fourth Multistakeholder Meeting to build a consensus around the privacy, accountability, and transparency issues associated with commercial and private uses of UAS. Stakeholders reviewed three different “best practices” documents to determine which draft should be used as a base framework going forward. The group selected two documents and is now working to reconcile the two drafts, which differ in several substantive ways, including with respect to how the best practices interact with First Amendment protections; restrictions on entering private property; and the scope of application of some privacy and security requirements. There is no timetable for completion of the reconciliation process.
The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) also recently released its interim final rule addressing drone registration. Under the rule, operators of unmanned aircraft weighing under 55 and over 0.55 pounds will be required to register their drones online and pay a fee of $5. Operators can register as many UAS as they would like, but must label each UAS with the operator’s contact information. Moreover, for accountability purposes, each UAS must display a unique identifier, which may be limited to the registration number provided by the FAA, or the FAA administrator may authorize the use of the aircraft’s serial number. Registrations must be renewed after 3 years.