The FAA Reauthorization Act of 2018 was signed by the President of the United States and became public law on October 5, 2018. The bill addresses many concerns associated with the Unmanned Aircraft System’s (UAS) community but left just as many questions. As a legislative point of order, the bill as written creates several challenges for Public Safety entities, as well as recreational flyers. Like all bills, the document is subject to interpretation and the final meaning of the words on the document will not be fully understood until it has survived judiciary challenges. Case in point, the FAA legal opinion for the 2012 version was shot down on several fronts when met by the scrutiny of the courts.

At face value, the changes to public operations could be monumental. The bill tasks the FAA with simplifying the process for issuing a Certificate of Authorization or Waiver (COA) when entering into an agreement with a public entity. The “Contents? of the agreement limit the weight of a public use aircraft, restricting it to 4.4 pounds. As written, it infers public use aircraft could not be larger than a DJI Phantom 4. This would impact a number of agencies who have acquired sUAS that are substantially larger than this threshold. They would be forced to operate predominantly under the Part 107 umbrella with all of the associated certifications and processes.

As an alternative interpretation, this section could be construed to mean aircraft weighing less than 4.4 pounds are eligible for an expedited review, while all others would submit to the original process. The FAA has stated it will need time to digest the bill and offer guidance to the many issues it contains.

The Reauthorization Act references 4.4 pounds in another public use section. It states a public actively tethered unmanned aircraft system, operated under 150 feet above ground level and weighing less than 4.4 pounds, will not need to obtain a COA. This could be advantageous for security missions but doesn”T affect dynamic employment opportunities for sUAS. The continued use of this specific weight as it relates to public use operations is a curiosity, as it seems improbably tied to any study or research.

Recreational operators have incurred a testing requirement under the new legislation. This will enhance the safety and respectability of sUAS operators. While undoubtedly an unwelcomed change to the hobbyist community, it will enhance interactions with the general public and foster support for this technology.

The bill falls short in the area of Counter-Unmanned Aircraft Systems (C-UAS) operations. It establishes consultation between the Department of Transportation and the Department of Defense, but there are no provisions to push technology down to State and Local governments. Similarly, although the ‘sense of Congress? identifies UAS as a potential hazard to safety, no relief from FCC or FAA regulatory preclusion is established for public safety enforcement.

The coming months will likely bring interpretation and clarity to the field. Until then, the sUAS community is bound to the established regulatory practices currently in place. In an evolving and maturing industry, no bill or regulation can replace a pilot’s aeronautical decision making and respect for, and adherence to, safety principles.

About the author

Anthony DeMolina is the Director of Aeronautical Training for the Los Angeles County Regional Training Center and is the Unmanned Aerial Systems (UAS) Subject Matter Expert for the Los Angeles Police Department. He has examined the advantages and disadvantages of this technology as it pertains to the law enforcement and first responder communities. He was a technical adviser for the development of a UAS ordinance for the City of Los Angeles. He is the course designer and instructor for four blocks of sUAS instruction for the Los Angeles County Regional Training Center. He is certified as a Master Instructor through the California Commission on Police Officers Standards and Training. Anthony is court qualified as an Unmanned Aerial Systems and Aviation expert. He holds the following Federal Aviation Administration certifications: certified flight instructor, commercial multi-engine airplane, commercial helicopter pilot, as well as, remote pilot.

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