Trump signs FAA Reauthorization Act containing key UAS measures

By Patrick C. Miller | October 08, 2018

President Donald Trump on Friday signed the Federal Aviation (FAA) Reauthorization Act of 2018, which contains a number of important provisions for the commercial unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) industry and hobbyist drone pilots.

The legislation generally received a favorable response from various organizations associated with the UAS industry, including the Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International (AUVSI), the Small UAV Coalition, the Alliance for Drone Innovation and the Commercial Drone Alliance.

However, the Academy of Model Aeronautics (AMA)—representing the drone hobbyist community—released a statement saying that while a number of provisions were improvements, it didn’t support all aspects of the act, which place new restrictions on the organization’s activities. “We will continue to advocate for a resolution that does not harm our hobby,” the AMA statement said.

A week after the U.S. House passed the FAA reauthorization legislation 398-23, the Senate passed HR 302 by a 93-6. Trump signed the legislation two days after the Senate’s approval. It’s the first five-year FAA reauthorization since 1982.

The FAA released a statement saying the reauthorization “delivers a safer, more secure and efficient aviation system to the traveling public and helps fuel economic growth and competitiveness,” also noting that the five-year bill authorizes reliable and predictable funding for the agency’s critical priorities.

Brian Wynne, AUVSI president and CEO, said the FAA bill launches the UAS industry to new heights, adding that it provides needed stability to U.S. aviation. He noted that it calls for rulemaking on a UAS traffic management system to help ensure the safe and efficient use of the national airspace.

“The ability to remotely identify and track UAS is the linchpin needed to advance the UAS industry, and it is critical for the ultimate realization of expanded operations, such as beyond line of sight and package delivery,” Wynne said. “Additionally, the bill addresses national security concerns by granting DHS (Department of Homeland Security) and DOJ (Department of Justice) the authority to mitigate potentially malicious UAS operations. This will help keep our skies safe and secure for all aircraft—manned and unmanned.”

The Small UAV Coalition highlighted important measures in the legislation it supports, such as giving the FAA the flexibility to appropriately regulate all UAS by imposing remote identification and tracking requirements. The coalition also supports enabling federal law enforcement “to conduct tailored countermeasures operations with due consideration to the ongoing safety of the national airspace and privacy and civil liberties,” as well as establishing a process for consensus UAS industry standards.

The FAA issued a news release noting that the reauthorization establishes new conditions for the recreational use of drones and repeals the special rule for model aircraft. The agency said it would evaluate the impacts of the change and noted that it couldn’t be implemented immediately. In the meantime, the FAA urged recreational and hobbyist drone pilots to follow regulations, which include:

-       Registering model aircraft

-       Flying within visual line of sight only

-       Following community-based safety guidelines

-       Flying within the programming of a nationwide community-based organization

-       Operating drones under 55 pounds unless certified by a community-based organization

-       Not flying near other aircraft or emergency response efforts

The FAA said updated direction and guidance will be provided as it implements the new legislation.