What to expect if the FAA releases a small UAS rule

By Patrick C. Miller | June 09, 2016

Last month, FAA Administrator Michael Huerta said at Xponential 2016 in New Orleans that the agency’s rule for small unmanned aircraft systems—known as Part 107—would likely be published in late spring.

Last week, Marke “Hoot” Gibson—FAA senior advisor on UAS integration—was quoted by the Pittsburgh Tribune as saying that the new small UAS regulations might be ready “within the next few weeks.”

Given that June 20 is the first official day of summer, this should mean that the long-awaited rules are not far off. UAS Magazine asked two UAS attorneys and a UAS commercial operator what to expect when the rule is released.

Matt Dunlevy, CEO of SkySkopes in Grand Forks, North Dakota, established a UAS company two years ago which holds a Section 333 exemption. The unmanned flight services company specializes in aerial cinematography, industrial inspection and agriculture.

“Regionally, we’re already established, but we do expect an influx of new 107 operators,” he said. “I’m expecting some relaxed permissions and I do think it’s really going to change the landscape of what it’s like to be a UAS flight service provider. But in my opinion, there’s always going to be a use for the exemptions people hold right now and for the exemption process in general.”

James Mackler, a UAS attorney with the Frost Brown Todd law firm in Nashville who specializes in UAS law, said, “I don’t think anyone expects that we’re going to get operations beyond line of sight or for over 500 feet or nighttime flying.”

When the new regulations are released, he intends to see how they differ from the draft rule issued by the FAA.

“We don’t know if the comments the FAA received will affect what the rules will look like,” he said.

Mackler will be looking for the answers to two questions: First, will the FAA do away with its requirement for commercial UAS operators to have a manned pilot’s license? Second, is there an airworthiness or inspection requirement for manufacturers or does it simply remain the obligation of the operator to conduct a pre-flight inspection?

“All the action will be on pilot certification and aircraft certification,” he said.

Jonathan Rupprecht, a commercial pilot, flight instructor author on UAS law and an attorney with Rupprecht Law in West Palm Beach, believes the FAA will issue sUAS operating certificates to those who don’t already have a pilot’s license.

“You might be able to take a computer-based exam and immediately operate,” he said. “If you’ve never done that before, you’re going to have to get a TSA background check.”

With a sudden rush of UAS pilot applications, Rupprecht cautioned: “There’s a potential big backlog that could happen there.”

Dunlevy said that even though SkySkopes has licensed pilots, he would put them through the FAA certification process if it’s part of the FAA’s sUAS rule. Two of the company’s pilots recently completed a UAS multirotor training course at Kansas State University. Dunlevy plans to send 10 UAV pilots through the KSU course because he wants to put safety at the forefront of SkySkopes’ services.

Rupprecht has little faith that the FAA will stick to its unofficial late spring timetable. His sources are telling him that the sUAS rule, as well as the FAA reauthorization bill, will be delayed three to six months.

“Everything got kicked down the road,” he said, adding that he doesn’t expect the sUAS rule to be released until after the presidential election in November while also allowing for the possibility he could be wrong.

Part 107 has been under White House review since April 20 by the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs (OIRA), the federal government’s central authority for review of executive branch regulations and coordination of federal privacy policy.

Rupprecht said OIRA can either accept the rule and publish it in the Federal Register or send it back to the FAA for more work. His sources are telling him it’s likely the regulations will be going back to the FAA, partly because of potential conflicts with the yet-to-be-released micro UAS rule.

“How long has the FAA been busting their deadlines?” Rupprecht asked. “They’ve done that over and over and over again. If they bust this June 21 deadline, you might want to go with a 333 if you’re going to be commercially operating or work with someone else. But that’s really difficult question for a lot of people to answer.”


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