Author Archives: Mark E. McKinnon

Mark E. McKinnon

About: Mark E. McKinnon

Mr. Mark McKinnon has worked for over 27 years in all areas of aviation and transportation law, including litigation, appellate, regulatory and other administrative matters. He has written and spoken extensively on unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) and aviation matters. In addition, he is co-editor of the Plane-ly Spoken blog, which is dedicated to providing up-to-date news, analysis, and opinion on issues that affect the aviation industry.

2017: The Year of Much Ado…But Nothing!

In terms of major UAS rulemaking efforts, 2017 could best be described as “the year that wasn’t”.  While the FAA had big plans to push forward the new rules for flight over people and finalize the Interpretation of the Special Rules for Model Aircraft, neither of those initiatives saw the light of day. Now, however, it appears that the FAA is gearing up the rulemaking process for 2018.  It is reported that in a recent speech at the Singapore Airshow, FAA Acting Deputy Administrator Carl Burleson announced that the UAS remote identification regulations would be out this year. 

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Privacy is None of the FAA’s Business

While most people agree that unmanned aircraft raise unique privacy issues, the question remains who is in the best position to deal with those concerns.  The FAA has repeatedly indicated that it does not have the resources, expertise, or inclination to be the nation’s drone privacy watchdog.  As a result, privacy issues continue to be worked out at the state and local levels. The Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC) disagrees with this approach, and has spent years attempting to force the FAA to conduct a comprehensive rulemaking on drone privacy and enforcement.  After several false starts, the United States Court …

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DOT v. FAA: Oversight of regional Air Carriers

A just-released report by the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) Office of Inspector General (OIG) points to the importance of the regional airline industry in safely transporting passengers, economic changes buffeting the industry, and difficulties encountered by the FAA in monitoring, overseeing, and responding to these economic changes. The OIG prepared the report, FAA Oversight Is Not Keeping Pace With Changes Occurring in the Regional Airline Industry, in response to a request by the ranking members of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee’s Subcommittee on Aviation. It’s worth a read.

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Voluntary Disclosure Reporting Program Gets Extended to Drug and Alcohol Programs, Unless…

The Federal Aviation Administration relies heavily on voluntary compliance with its regulations.  As part of its strategy, the FAA encourages regulated entities to participate in voluntary disclosure reporting programs (VDRP) to ensure that sporadic issues do not become systemic problems.  The idea is that if an employer detects a problem and takes immediate, strong corrective action, the FAA will forgo issuing a civil penalty for the violation. The FAA just recently issued a new Advisory Circular (AC 120-117) that details how regulated entities may take advantage of the VDRP for violations of the drug and alcohol testing regulations contained in …

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Drone v. Helicopter: And the loser is…

The NTSB Report into the midair collision between a DJI Phantom and an army Blackhawk helicopter has been released and not surprisingly, the probable cause of the accident was sUAS pilot error. On September 21, 2017, an army UH-60 helicopter was operating in class G airspace at an altitude of 300 feet near Staten Island, New York.  The pilot saw the UAS and took evasive action, but it was insufficient to avoid the collision.  The helicopter suffered a 1.5 inch dent in its main rotor and cracks in the composite fairing and a window frame.  The Phantom was destroyed with …

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“Sir/Madam, Show Me Your License and Registration”

The long and tortured path to mandatory registration of all hobby aircraft appears finally to be at an end.  After a seven month hiatus, the law is changing once again, and the registration requirement is being reinstated. As most of you will remember, the FAA unexpectedly issued regulations on an emergency basis just before Christmas 2015 that required all hobby aircraft under .55 pounds to be registered with the FAA. 

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“This is Your Flight Attendant Speaking . . .”

Flight attendants play a vital role in commercial air transportation.  Not only do they help facilitate travel, they also serve a critical function in the event of an emergency.  In addition, according to a new ruling from the Eastern District of Pennsylvania, statements made by flight attendants to opposing counsel in a lawsuit can bind the company. That ruling comes in a somewhat unusual context.  In 2016, the Plaintiff, Regina Raub, was injured while traveling on a US Airways flight from Cancun, Mexico to Philadelphia, Pennsylvania when the aircraft unexpectedly encountered some turbulence. 

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UAS: Preemption Means Preemption!!

State and local governments have not been shy about attempting to regulate almost every aspect of drone operations.  Some of these efforts have been completely appropriate and aimed at areas subject to local control, such as prevention of stalking and voyeurism.  However, all too often, state and local governments have also turned their attention to issues completely under federal control. One example of just such an ill advised ordinance was passed by the City of Newton, Massachusetts in December 2016.  This law:

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Federal Pre-emption and Aircraft Certification: You Have to Read This Opinion!!

Originally posted August 11, 2017 Today, we turn our attention to the latest chapter in a long saga concerning the scope of federal preemption over product liability claims made against manufacturers of certificated aviation component parts.  Back in 2014, the United States District Court for the Middle District of Pennsylvania ruled that design defect claims against certificated product manufacturers were completely preempted by the Federal Aviation Act.  In 2016, the United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit reversed, finding that the certification process does not automatically preempt the entire field of safe design.  The Court of Appeals did, …

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Honesty is the Best Policy…Honestly

Originally posted August 1, 2017  No pilot wants to put their certificate in jeopardy.  As a result, if there is a minor accident or incident, the first, panicked reaction might be to lie about what happened.  As one Wayland, New York man is now finding out, this is the worst thing you can do. Brian Woodhams had a student pilot’s license in October 2015.  As a result, he was only permitted to fly alone or with a flight instructor.  On October 31, 2015, Mr. Woodhams had difficulty landing his Piper Cherokee, and wound up running off the runway and putting …

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