The small UAS rules are coming. When they are finalized, there will be a regularized process that will be open to all types of businesses. The requirements will be set, so people can easily decide whether it makes sense to develop an in-house UAS capability, or whether it will be better to contract with charter UAS operators who provide inspection and other services on-demand.
That is the dream, but when will it become reality? Could it be 2018???
The next, most important step, in the process is the actual publication of the Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM). That act, however, is just the start of another long process. Before the UAS regulations can become final, there will have to be a notice and comment period so that all stakeholders can help make sure the rules are appropriate. Then, the FAA has to evaluate the comments, and based on the feedback, refine and modify the rules to ensure they maximize safety without being a burden on what will be a multi-billion dollar industry. How long will that take?
According to Congress, it had better not take more than one year. Congress has been adamant that the final regulations be out before the end of 2015, and that is still the “official” goal. Realistically, no one thinks that is even remotely possible.
The last Inspector General’s report, issued in late Spring 2014, found that the FAA had failed to meet almost all of the timetables set by Congress, and that it was not on track to meet future timetables. The report concluded that early to mid-2016 was a possible completion date if nothing else went wrong.
Back in August, Randy Willis, FAA Air Traffic Manager for the UAS Integration Office, stated that due to the expected volume of comments, he believed it would take 18-24 months after the NPRM for issuance of the final rules. This would stretch the rulemaking into mid to late 2016.
This week, Earl Lawrence, manager of the FAA’s Small Airplane Directorate, told a conference in Washington DC that in his opinion, the small UAS rule will not be finalized before 2017 and more probably, it would take until 2018. Mr. Lawrence felt that the delay will be driven almost exclusively by the number of public comments, all of which the FAA is statutorily required to consider and respond to as part of the rulemaking.
By way of comparison, the Interpretive Rule on Model Aircraft garnered over 35,000 comments, and FAA had to extend the comment period to accommodate the volume. Mr. Lawrence expects the small UAS rules to be the most commented on regulation in the history of the FAA, and could generate up to 100,000 comments.
Mr. Lawrence concluded his remarks by reminding people that even without the formal rules, “there are ways to start flying anyway.” This is sound advice. If businesses want to fly now, they can apply for a section 333 exemption. There are close to 80 Section 333 petitions currently pending, and the number is growing fast. According to Mr. Lawrence, it could reach 100 by the end of the month.
The faster you get in line with your petition, the faster you will be able to operate. The alternative may be to wait for another 4 years.
(Originally posted October 27, 2014)