NEWS Alert

FAA Drone Regulation Reaches Milestone but Challenges Remain

On July 26, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) announced that it had issued more than 100,000 remote pilot certificates. Yet limitations on drone operations imposed by the FAA have led to both litigation and “work-arounds” by industry.

The remote pilot certification requirement for drone operators was issued by the FAA in June 2016 as part of its Small Unmanned Aircraft regulation (14 CFR Part 107, Section 107.12). The regulation also mandates that drones be flown below 400 feet altitude, during daylight and within sight of the operator.

The FAA’s efforts to regulate drone use have met with significant backlash from consumer drone operators — often referred to as “hobbyists”— who have engaged in legal battles with the FAA. In Taylor v. Huerta, Case No. 15-495 (D.C. Cir. May 19, 2017), John Taylor sued the FAA Administrator because he did not want to register his drone or comply with flight restrictions. Although the US Court of Appeals (DC Circuit) ultimately sided with Taylor, the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2018 (H.R. 2810) specifically overruled the Court’s decision, reinstating mandatory drone registration. In Taylor v. FAA, Robert Taylor launched a class action suit against the FAA alleging that the personal information and money collected by the FAA for drone registration was illegal. The suit, which includes 836,796 members and requests $841 million in restitution, is ongoing.

FAA drone regulations also affect a number of large, influential companies that are working to incorporate drones into their business models. For example, Walmart, Google and Amazon are all working on drone delivery programs. Facebook plans to use drones to provide Wi-Fi in rural areas, expanding internet access around the globe. Many construction companies and architecture firms are also using drones.

FAA regulations have made it difficult for businesses to experiment with drone technologies. Transporting a package from a warehouse to a home via drone, for example, will likely entail transporting the package over groups of people and letting the package out of the operator’s sight—both violations of FAA drone regulations. Although companies can apply for waivers that grant them permission to operate outside of current regulations, the existing approval process can take three to six months. Because of FAA’s regulations, many companies are testing their drones overseas.

However, regulatory reform regarding drone operations may be on the horizon. In May 2018, the FAA launched the unmanned aircraft system integration pilot program, described as “an opportunity for state, local, and tribal governments to partner with private sector entities, such as UAS operators or manufacturers, to accelerate safe UAS integration.” US Secretary of Transportation Elaine Chao stated that “Data gathered from these pilot projects will form the basis of a new regulatory framework to safely integrate drones into our national airspace.”

Both consumer and commercial drone markets are growing exponentially. Between 2016 and 2021, the FAA expects the number of consumer drones to increase from 1.1 million to 3.55 million, while the number of commercial drones is projected to grow from 42,000 to 442,000. (FAA Forecasts Continued Growth in Air Travel)

Business Insider projects that revenue from drone sales will top $12 billion in 2021, up from $8 billion in 2016. In 2016, PricewaterhouseCoopers reported that the addressable market value of drone-powered solutions is more than $127 billion.

TWG has extensive experience assisting companies operating unmanned aircraft systems with FAA regulatory matters. For more information, please contact Ronce Almond at ralmond@wicks-group.com or 202-457-7790.

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