Drones and Other Stuff: The 2018 FAA Reauthorization

Readers of Plane-ly Spoken are well aware of the twisting, and sometime torturous path, that FAA reauthorization takes. Competing versions of the reauthorization were introduced in both the House of Representatives and the Senate last summer.  Both bills, each weighing in at over 400 pages, got sidetracked during the fall, resulting in yet another short term extension.

Now, however, efforts to pass a comprehensive, five year reauthorization of the FAA may finally be entering the home stretch. This week, a new version of the House bill, slimmed down to only  353 pages and omitting the controversial proposal to privatize  air traffic control, has been introduced.  This bill should have an easier time getting passed, as it has bipartisan backing of the leadership of the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee and its six subcommittees.

The bill has a number of provisions that affect the use of unmanned aircraft.  These include:

  • Authority for the FAA to set up a risk-based permitting system for UAS operations. The provision sets out the risks the FAA should consider, and requires the FAA to find that the proposed operation has an equivalent level of safety to flights under formal regulations or exemptions.  The statute makes any permits valid for 5 years and requires the FAA to process applications within 120 days.  The statute also permits the FAA to waive the requirement that an aircraft have an airworthiness certificate or that the pilot have an airman certificate.
  • A requirement that the FAA initiate a rulemaking within 18 months for certification of low altitude air navigation facilities, including unmanned traffic management (UTM) below 400 feet and low altitude communication, navigation, and surveillance (CNS) for aircraft operations that occur below 400 feet.
  • Authority to permit operation of certain UTM and CNS systems prior to the completion of notice and comment rulemaking.
  • Changes to the Special Rule for Model Aircraft prohibiting operation of model aircraft within 500’ of an amusement park, and permitting educational flights to be conducted as model aircraft operation rather than as commercial UAS operations, regardless of whether there is compensation or economic benefit involved .
  • A detailed definition for what constitutes a Community Based Organization (CBO) for purposes of overseeing model aircraft operations, and a requirement that the FAA establish a process for recognizing legitimate CBOs.
  • A requirement that the FAA issue a final rule within one year establishing a small UAS air carrier certificate and authorize the carriage of property for compensation or hire (i.e. package delivery).
  • A requirement that, within 60 days, the FAA establish an aviation rulemaking committee to make recommendations on operation of micro-UAS, which the statute defines as an aircraft under 4.4 pounds. The statute also requires a final rule for micro-UAS within 180 days after receiving the ARCs recommendations.
  • A requirement that the Secretary of Transportation consult with state and local governments and other federal agencies to identify potential reductions to privacy caused by integration of UAS into the national airspace system.
  • A requirement that the DOT inspector general study the appropriate role of State, local and Tribal governments in the regulation of the airspace below 400 feet.
  • A requirement that the Comptroller General study the “appropriate fee mechanism to recover the costs of” regulation of UAS and the provision of air navigation services to unmanned aircraft.

Given that this bill is bipartisan, it appears likely that the House will be able to pass it. The question then becomes what changes, if any, the Senate will require in order to get the votes necessary to pass. As always, Planely Spoken will keep you up to date as matters develop.


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Thank You for Listening In…

Yesterday, we hosted another addition to our Aviation Symposium Series: Aviation and the Safety Act. There was a great showing of interest and hope that all attendees were able to something new. If you happened to miss it and want to hear about the topics covered, you can follow this link for the recording. And as always, everything can be found on our Aviation Symposium App.

If you have any questions, please contact kristina.repko@leclairryan.com.

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Airplanes Helping Airplanes – Drones in the Aircraft Maintenance World

Given how few airline accidents have occurred over the past 20 years, people rarely give a second thought to whether or not the aircraft they are boarding is mechanically reliable.  If they did look into the matter, they would likely be surprised to see how much work goes into making sure the aircraft is in working order.  Maintenance of an airliner is both time and manpower intensive, and results in each aircraft being unavailable for revenue generation for an extended period of time.  As a result, any technology that can reduce either the amount of personnel or the amount of time needed to inspect an aircraft can have a big impact on the bottom line.


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Planes, Drones and $…The 2018 Appropriation and Aviation

After four governmentwide short-term stopgap funding provisions since last September, Congress has enacted, and the President has signed, a full fiscal year Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2018 (Public Law 115-141, March 23, 2018), a 2,149-page behemoth that provides a total of $1.3 trillion in funding.

According to a summary of the Transportation, Housing and Urban Development, and Related Agencies Appropriations Act, 2018, (Division L of the Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2018, commonly referred to as “THUD”) prepared by the Committee on Appropriations, U.S. House of Representatives, the Department of Transportation (DOT) appropriations include $18 billion in total budgetary resources for the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), an increase of $1.6 billion above the  fiscal year (FY) 2017 level. The summary also highlights the following measures:


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The Aviation Symposium Webinar Series Presents:

Aviation and The SAFETY Act: Limiting Your Liability

Whether you’re an airline, manufacturer, service provider, airport, or any other aviation business, you cannot miss this webinar.

Nearly every business that interacts with the public faces a threat of terrorism. Companies at the front end include air, bus and rail transport companies. Businesses where people gather, as well as businesses that manage critical infrastructure, all face the same threat.


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Beyond Dexter the Peacock

When United Airlines barred a woman from bringing “Dexter the emotional support peacock” on a flight from Newark to Los Angeles earlier this year, the story made national news and went viral on social media. It is easy to understand why. The account, replete with a picture of the iridescent bird perched atop a luggage cart at the gate, was whimsical and mildly outrageous. It also coincided with the news that both United and Delta had tightened their policies on emotional support animals. Various outlets reported that the airlines, having patiently endured people bringing the likes of pigs, monkeys, snakes, turkeys and kangaroos onto planes for years, were finally saying “Enough!”

If only it were that simple.


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Wheels Up for Blockchain Technology in Aviation?

Many of us know something about bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies. Perhaps fewer of us are familiar with the underlying digital technology for these cryptocurrencies — known as blockchain. Likely even fewer of us recognize the role that blockchain can play in aviation.  This post will shed light on ways blockchain is being examined and even introduced in the transportation sector in general, including aviation.

First, what is blockchain?


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Congratulations to LeClairRyan’s Christa Hinckley

Christa Hinckley, a member of our Aviation team, has been named Chairman of the new General, Business and Charter Aviation committee of the American Bar Association: Forum on Air & Space Law. This new committee will serve as a resource for lawyers who not only practice the regular airline world of aviation law, but also charter operators, flight departments, agricultural operations and general aviation.

The full link can be found here, which contains committee information and the link to join any one of those committee. Congratulations Christa!

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Summary of Congressional Hearing: “The State of Aviation Safety” Part II

In Part I of this post, we summarized the statements of Subcommittee Chairman LoBiondo and FAA and NASA witnesses at the February 27 hearing on “The State of Aviation Safety” conducted by the Subcommittee on Aviation of the Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure of the U.S. House of Representatives.  In this Part II, we will briefly discuss the prepared and oral statements from NTSB, USDOT Office of Inspector General (OIG), and Air Line Pilots Association, International (ALPA) officials.


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Thank You for Joining Our Webinar on Social Media and Aviation

In this edition of the Aviation Webinar Series, Morgan Campbell and I discussed the risks, rewards, upsides, and downsides of social media and how it is affecting the aviation industry.

If you missed this session, the entire recording can be found here and a copy of the slide deck can be found on our Aviation Symposium App. If you have any questions or need assistance, please contact kristina.repko@leclairryan.com.

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