As the FAA continues to make progress in developing a regulatory framework for governing UAS, we are seeing a boom in legislation around the country as state and federal legislators seek to promote the commercial use of UAS.

In Washington, Senator Cory Booker, a Democrat from New Jersey, and Senator John Hoeven, a Republican from North Dakota, recently teamed up to introduce the Commercial UAS Modernization Act of 2015.  Their bill is intended to reduce regulatory burdens on commercial UAS operators, while expanding the use of the FAA’s existing UAS test sites.

Senator Booker serves as a member of the Senate Subcommittee on Aviation Operations, Safety and Security.  Senator Hoeven sits on the Senate Appropriations Committee and isChairman of the Committee’s Subcommittee on Homeland Security.  Both Senators have been leaders in urging the FAA to move swiftly to finalize new rules regulating UAS technology in order to promote U.S. innovation in the safe use of commercial UAS technology.

Under current law, businesses can apply to the FAA for exemptions to operate UAS on a case-by-case basis.  In February, the FAA proposed draft regulations that would change this policy and allow for the commercial flying of UAs during daylight hours, within sight of a UAS operator and under 500 feet.  However, it could take the FAA up to two years to finalize its rules.  To help the U.S. keep pace with global competitors, Senators Corker and Hoeven have introduced legislation that would create temporary rules while the FAA completes its rulemaking process.

The new Senate bill would provide interim safety rules and help speed up the regulatory process in order to expand commercial UAS use.  The bill includes rules that closely mirror regulations included in the FAA’s draft.  The legislation includes the same requirements for operation as the FAA rules and requires UAS operators to pass a knowledge test, be insured, and report accidents to the FAA no more than two days after an incident.  The Senate bill also expands the Department of Transportation’s authority to bring civil actions and would build a new structure for registering aircraft and a new fee structure for the process.

The Commercial UAS Modernization Act has been well received by a number of influential stakeholder groups, including the Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems InternationalInformation Technology and Innovation Foundation, the Small UAV Coalition, the National Association of Broadcasters and the Consumer Electronics Association.

Other members of Congress are exploring ways to promote the innovative use of UAS.  The House is likely to hold hearings on the commercialization of UAS in June.

Last week, the FAA also announced a new Unmanned Aerial Systems Center of Excellence (UAS COE) and the selection of Mississippi State University to operate the center with a team known as the Alliance for System Safety of UAS through Research Excellence (ASSURE).  Authorized by Congress in 2014, the UAS COE will focus on research on low-altitude operations safety, spectrum management, training of pilots, synchronization of air traffic control operations, and other pressing issues.

Pillsbury’s UAS Focus Team will continue to closely monitor developments and provide assistance in navigating new regulations which will impact a wide range of industries.