AUVSI Advocacy Initiatives

Unmanned Aircraft Systems

Small UAS Rule

The UAS industry is currently awaiting finalized small UAS rules from the FAA. Click here to read AUVSI's comments on the FAA's proposed rules that were released Feb, 2015.

In the USA, AUVSI is working with Congress and the FAA to integrate unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) into the national airspace system (NAS) safely and expeditiously; develop consistent global standards; and increase funding to more efficiently field UAS. Also, ensuring UAS are included in the development and implementation of the next generation air transportation system (NextGen).

The Federal Aviation Administration has established an interim policy to speed up airspace authorizations for certain commercial unmanned aircraft (UAS) operators who obtain Section 333 exemptions. Section 333 of the FAA Modernization and Reform Act of 2012 (FMRA) grants the Secretary of Transportation the authority to determine whether an airworthiness certificate is required for a UAS to operate safely in the National Airspace System (NAS).

Under the new policy, the FAA will grant a Certificate of Waiver or Authorization (COA) for flights at or below 200 feet to any UAS operator with a Section 333 exemption for aircraft that weigh less than 55 pounds, operate during daytime Visual Flight Rules (VFR) conditions, operate within visual line of sight (VLOS) of the pilots, and stay certain distances away from airports or heliports:

  • 5 nautical miles (NM) from an airport having an operational control tower; or
  • 3 NM from an airport with a published instrument flight procedure, but not an operational tower; or
  • 2 NM from an airport without a published instrument flight procedure or an operational tower; or
  • 2 NM from a heliport with a published instrument flight procedure
The “blanket” 400-foot COA allows flights anywhere in the country except restricted airspace and other areas, such as major cities, where the FAA prohibits UAS operations.

The FAA has also started using a “summary grant” process for commercial UAS exemptions, which will speed up approvals by grouping petitions that match previously granted exemptions so analysis does not have to be repeated each time. 

The administration will mostly use the “summary grant” process for the applications of film and television production and aerial data collection. Unique requests will still require detailed individual analysis. AUVSI has also advocated authorities lessen the requirement for commercial operators to hold a private pilot’s license and third class medical certificate. The FAA recently made a policy change allowing UAS operators to satisfy these requirements with a recreational or sport pilot certificate and a driver’s license in lieu of a medical certificate. These new requirements will reduce financial and temporal burdens on commercial operators in accessing the airspace. 

FAA Reauthorization

The FAA Modernization and Reform Act of 2012 established a foundation for government and industry collaboration to advance the integration of unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) into the National Airspace System (NAS). As part of this, the FAA is currently working on finalizing rules for commercial and public use of small UAS (systems weighing 55 lbs or less). The agency is also granting permission for limited commercial use on a case-by-case basis under Section 333 of the 2012 act. But more can and should be done.

The congressionally mandated deadline for the integration of UAS into the NAS was September 30, 2015 — the same day the current FAA reauthorization measure was set to expire. The FAA did not meet the integration deadline, and Congress passed a six-month extension for the new FAA reauthorization measure. On Feb. 3, 2016, the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee introduced an FAA reauthorization measure entitled, the Aviation Innovation, Reform and Reauthorization Act or AIRR. The legislation includes provisions that AUVSI has been advocating for during the last year, including establishing the creation of a risk-based permitting process and focusing on the development of a UAS traffic management system that will help integrate UAS into the existing airspace infrastructure and ensure the continued safety of the airspace.

While it is unclear when the FAA will publish final rulemaking on small UAS, these steps remain critical and the most immediate way to encourage UAS innovation and ensure the continued safety of the NAS. Whether within the context of the small UAS rule, through the reauthorization or by other means, AUVSI has outlined a 2016 policy agenda to accelerate the commercial use of UAS, promote safety and expand UAS research.

Implement a “Risk-Based, Technology Neutral” Regulatory Framework. 

Any UAS regulations proposed in FAA reauthorization should rely on a safety risk management process that assesses the entirety of a UAS operation instead of solely regulating a specific vehicle or system. This type of flexible framework will allow for the FAA to accommodate innovation, rather than require new rules each time a new technology emerges. Following a detailed risk analysis of all factors involved, which may include system weight, available frequency spectrum, population density and overlying airspace, operations may be regarded as “safe” and granted access to the airspace with minimal regulatory barriers.
Expand Section 333 Exemption Authority to Include Beyond-Line-of-Sight. 

According to the authority provided under Section 333 of the 2012 act, the FAA has granted permission for limited commercial use of UAS on a case-by-case basis. This process can be used to allow for more uses of this technology in the short term by giving the FAA the clear authority to address Section 333 exemption requests for beyond-visual-line-of-sight operations. These operations are crucial to many commercial uses of UAS. As written, the underlying provision does not specifically allow for beyond-visual-line-of-sight operations. Ultimately, the FAA reauthorization measure should support and accelerate the development of consensus standards, regulations, and other guidance addressing the technical and operational challenges limiting certification of UAS, thereby eliminating the need for additional 333 exemptions.
Develop a Holistic R&D Plan for UAS Integration. 

The FAA reauthorization legislation should provide a comprehensive UAS research and development (R&D) plan. There is a lot of good work already being done, and better coordination will ensure we’re maximizing the impact of these efforts. While the FAA’s Pathfinder Program and UAS Center of Excellence have great promise for success, we need better visibility on how they will fit into the larger UAS integration picture, which would include all types of airspace and sizes of UAS. This plan should outline government and industry roles, milestones and dates for advancing outstanding research needs.
Make FAA-Designated UAS Test Sites Eligible for Federal Funding.

Congress should consider making the test sites eligible for federal funding under current FAA offices and programs that are engaged with UAS activities in order to help them perform the valuable research needed for integration. This would not specifically add new funding for the test sites; rather, it could allow for them to receive existing federal funding and give industry guidance and incentive to better utilize the test sites.
Advance the Development of a UAS Traffic Management System. 

Congress should also facilitate the development of an operational UAS Traffic Management System/Network to ensure the safe and efficient use of the airspace. While some commercial UAS operations will occur at low levels, this airspace may become complex with established navigation routes, and point-to-point route segments, requiring specific equipage requirements. A traffic management system will integrate UAS into the existing national airspace infrastructure and ensure the continued safety of the airspace.
Elevate UAS Integration into the National Airspace as a National Priority. 

Leadership and coordination with industry and government partners is absolutely critical to ensure the U.S. regains trailblazer status in this international industry. As UAS integration must be done in coordination with NextGen, there is an opportunity to consider linking the two efforts and their resources more effectively going forward.

Frequency Spectrum

As part of the FAA’s UAS Aviation Rulmaking Committee, AUVSI engaged in discussions on a number of topics related to spectrum availability for UAS Command and Control (C2). Most notably was a teaming among the members representing AUVSI, Lockheed Martin, AIA, and UNITE to help shape and advocate for the U.S positon on Ka and Ku band fixed satellite service for UAS C2. The effort was in support of the U.S. delegation to the World Radio Conference 2015 (WRC 15).

Through this collaboration, AUVSI’s “Unmanned Systems” magazine published three separate articles to highlight commercial benefits of supporting the United States’ position. These articles were widely distributed and used as educational material to other WRC delegations for the successful conclusion of agenda item 1.5.

WRC 15 agenda item 1.5 concerned making provisions in the Radio Regulations for use of the FSS to support UAS applications in non-segregated airspace. This agenda item called for studies to determine whether a system operating under a Ku band or Ka band allocation to the FSS, which is a non-safety service, can support safe operation of UAS control and non-payload communications (CNPC). 

Of significance to aviation is that the frequency bands that support radio communication and navigation for aircraft are allocated to recognized safety services (such as the AM(R)S, the AMS(R)S or the ARNS) wherever possible.

It was the U.S. position that if studies find such use is feasible, then any resultant technical and regulatory actions should be limited to the case of UAS using satellites, as studied, and not set a precedent that puts other aeronautical safety services at risk. Furthermore, any new rules or regulations should provide for the use of ICAO standards and recommended practices (SARPs) in implementation.