Drone pilots and the companies who employ them must always stay on top of the ever-changing regulatory environment surrounding the dynamic Unmanned Aerial System (UAS) industry. Let’s take a moment to look at some of the recent changes to drone laws and some that are in store for 2020. In 2019, changes were flying through the regulatory skies as the FAA continued to launch new drone rules or changes to old ones. From airman knowledge tests to remote ID requirements, the federal agency made advances that were sure to please or infuriate just about anyone in the drone space. Increases in regulatory requirements can often please large, entrenched players that have resources available to quickly meet and adapt to new requirements, while their competition from smaller operations can be stifled as startups and small businesses are often not equipped to deal with added red tape. With this in mind, it is critical for drone businesses of all shapes and sizes to stay dialed-in to any and all rule changes potentially affecting their operations.
Drone Law Changes in 2019
Here is a chronological look at some of the important changes in drone laws last year.
Department of Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao announced proposed changes to Part 107 that would allow drone pilots to fly at night and over people under certain conditions. These updates affect the “daylight waiver” to permit night flying for small UAS operations if the pilot would “complete knowledge testing or training, including new subject matter areas related to operating at night.” The drone would have to carry an anti-collision light illuminated and visible for at least 3 statute miles.
A new rule in the Federal Register requires small UAV owners to display an FAA- issued registration number on an outside surface of the drone. Registration numbers may not be displayed only in an interior compartment.
The FAA made changes to regulations focused on recreational drone flyers as mandated by Congress in the FAA Reauthorization Act of 2018. Recreation drone users may fly below 400 feet in uncontrolled airspace without specific certification. However, pilots must obtain prior authorization from the FAA before flying in controlled airspace around airports. The Reauthorization Act repealed Section 336 of the previous Reauthorization, which protected recreational aircraft from new laws.
The agency also expanded restrictions for drone operations in airspace up to 2,000 feet mean sea level near U.S. territorial and navigable waters and specifically prohibit drone flights in the airspace within a “stand-off distance of 3,000 feet laterally and 1,000 feet above any U.S. Navy vessel.”
New rules established restrictions for drone flights over “national security sensitive locations” — 12 additional locations requested by the U.S. Department of Defense.
The Low Altitude Authorization and Capability (LAANC) expanded to include recreational drone pilots. The system automates the application and approval process for drone operators to obtain airspace authorizations and “expedites the time it takes for a drone pilot to receive authorization to fly under 400 feet in controlled airspace.”
The FAA announced a collaboration with the defense department to “establish intermittent restrictions on drone flights within the lateral boundaries of select federal facilities during specified times.” Before the change, drone pilots could not fly at the locations at any time.
New restrictions for drone flights over 60 facilities – mostly federal prisons.
Expansion of LAANC to four airports – Baltimore/Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport, Dulles International Airport, William P. Hobby Airport in Houston and Newark Liberty International Airport – joined the list of approximately 400 air traffic facilities covering about 600 airports.
In one of the most discussed policy changes, the FAA announced a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) for Remote ID for drones. The move is considered a next step in establishing unmanned traffic management (UTM) and will represent more stringent enforcement of federal UAV rules.
“This proposal establishes design and production requirements for two categories of remote identification: standard remote identification UAS and limited remote identification UAS. Standard remote identification UAS would be required to broadcast identification and location information directly from the unmanned aircraft and simultaneously transmit that same information to a Remote ID USS through an internet connection. Limited remote identification UAS would be required to transmit information through the internet only, with no broadcast requirements; however, the unmanned aircraft would be designed to operate no more than 400 feet from the control station.”
The rule will apply to all drones over .55 pounds. All drones sold U.S. would be required to “comply with design and production requirements according to the rule.”
“All UAS operating in the airspace of the United States, with very few exceptions, would be subject to the requirements of this rule. All UAS operators would be required to comply regardless of whether they conduct recreational or commercial operations, except those flying UAS that are not otherwise required to be registered under the FAA’s existing rules.”
Looking ahead to 2020
On Jan. 13 the FAA will change the way it tests “applicants for an FAA airman certificate for all certificated pilots (including drone pilots).”
All applicants will have to get an FAA Tracking Number by creating an Integrated Airman Certification and Rating Application profile prior to registering for a knowledge test.
“The FTN allows the applicant and any certifying officer the ability to pull up airman information in a consistent format, leaving little room for errors associated with an applicant’s name. Previously, name inconsistencies could lead to returned files and lengthy delays in the certification process.”
The FAA will hold two webinars on the changes on Jan. 8.
There are many potential rule changes being bandied about by the FAA and state and local governments, many involving privacy concerns. We will continue to keep you updated if and when they materialize.
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