FAA Drone Rulemaking ‘Slogs’ Forward!

The FAA started 2019 off in a big way, releasing two major UAS rulemakings on the same day.  The public notice and comment period for both rules is now closed, and it is interesting to see what the public thinks of these proposals. 

The first initiative is a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) entitled Operation of Small Unmanned Aircraft Systems Over People.  This rule would permit UAS operations at night without a waiver and create several new categories of small UAS that would be permitted to operate directly over bystanders.

The Flight Over People rule garnered 899 comments.  Commenters overwhelmingly approved of the proposal to standardize night operations and do away with the waiver requirements.  There was, overall, less support for the proposed standards for flight over people.

There were many commenters, primarily small commercial operators, who felt that the .55-pound limit for the unrestricted category was too low.  Unfortunately, almost none of these comments contained any additional data or injury calculations, and instead seemed to arbitrarily pick a higher number (usually 1-3 pounds) followed by the statement that this higher weight would be safe.  In addition, many of the comments from individuals and small operators argued that they should be permitted to use their best judgment on safety in deciding when and how to fly over people, rather than having to rely on the FAA/manufacturer to certify that a given UAS is below the quantifiable injury standard.

The second rulemaking is an Advance Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (ANPRM) entitled Safe and Secure Operations of Small Unmanned Aircraft Systems.  The ANPRM seeks public input on a wide range of issues that are key to the ability of the FAA to integrate unmanned aircraft into the National Airspace System.

Surprisingly, the ANPRM generated over twice as many public comments as the Flight Over People Rule, with 1,822 received by the deadline.  Of these, it appears that 602 of the comments are form submissions by members of the Academy of Model Aeronautics (AMA).  These comments point out that the existing AMA guidelines constitute a comprehensive safety code, and that any additional regulation of model aircraft is unwarranted.  It appears that a similar number of comments, while not “form comments,” are also from hobbyists expressing similar sentiments.  These hobbyist comments comprise over 70% of the comments submitted on the ANPRM.

The remaining comments are generally against adding new stand-off distances, in favor of an unmanned traffic management system but wary of proposals to impose the costs of the system on users, and against additional performance limitations or design standards for critical systems.

Of course, for both the NPRM and ANPRM, there were also comments that strayed from the topic and wandered into invective. What rulemaking would be complete without the well thought out public comment:

“I sure wish the FAA would pull their heads out of their [expletive]! Come on man common sense rules!!!”

See Comment of “Doyle you wish,” Comment Tracking # 1k3-99al-e0az.

Now, the FAA must begin the unenviable task of sorting through each of these comments, categorizing them, and responding to them.  Of course, the FAA has already stated that there will be no final Flight Over People Rule until the Remote Identification Rulemaking is finalized.  If sources are correct, we should see the proposed Remote ID rulemaking released for comment before the end of the summer.  That rule, with its civil liberties implications, potential for increased costs, and design and equipment standards, should generate comments an order of magnitude greater than what we saw with these two rulemakings.

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