FAA moves forward with rulemaking on UAS flights over people, safety, traffic management

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In a move that could further accelerate the unmanned aircraft systems industry, the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration today announced a notice of proposed rulemaking for the operation of small UAS over people, as well as another about the safe and secure operations of drones.
  
In addition, it announced three contracts for UAS test sites to develop an unmanned traffic management (UTM) program that will be separate from the existing air traffic management system but is expected to complement it.
 
“As you know, current FAA regulations do not permit small drones to fly at night without a waiver,” Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao said at a Transportation Research Board meeting on Monday. “The proposed rule allows drones to fly at night without a waiver, if the operator has received appropriate training, completed approved testing, and if the drone is equipped with anti-collision lighting.”
 
It also allows for flights over people if the risk can be shown to be small.
 
“Let us note that the department is keenly aware that there are legitimate public concerns about drones, concerning safety, security and privacy,” Chao said. “Recent events overseas have underscored concerns about the potential for drones to disrupt aviation and the national airspace. So along with this new proposed rule, the Department is finishing up two other proposals to address drone safety and national security.”
 
One is the proposed rulemaking on safety and security — which includes drone identification and tracking technologies — and the other is the move to create a UTM system. 
 
The three groups selected to develop the UTM system are the Nevada UAS Test Site Smart Silver State; Northern Plains Unmanned Aircraft Systems Test Site; and, Virginia Tech Mid-Atlantic Aviation Partnership.They will build on the research started by NASA, and later furthered in partnership with the FAA.

“These contracts have been awarded to mature technologies for unmanned aircraft traffic management including, flight planning, communications, aircraft separation and weather services for these drones, which will operate under 400 feet,” the FAA says.

AUVSI’s President and CEO, Brian Wynne, applauded the moves.
 
“These FAA rulemakings will help advance the commercial UAS industry beyond the current regulatory framework,” he says. “Expanded operations such as operations over people are currently allowed through the FAA’s waiver process on a case-by-case basis, and CNN and State Farm are among the companies already conducting these flights safely. A rule that allows for widespread operations over people without requiring a waiver will allow more operators to harness the great potential of UAS.”
 
The other efforts will shape a national UAS policy, he says, adding, “we are very encouraged by the announcement of these proposed rulemakings, and AUVSI welcomes this opportunity to provide comments on these policies, after our members have reviewed and analyzed them, to continue to move the industry forward.”
 
DJI, the world’s largest maker of consumer and commercial drones, also praised the new FAA moves, although it said they will require industry study.
 
“Drones prove every day that they belong in the sky doing important work for America, and everyone benefits when it is easier for professionals to safely fly over people and at night,” says Brendan Schulman, DJI’s vice president of policy and legal affairs. “Drones have helped rescue more than 200 people from peril around the world, and drones help professionals do their work faster, safer, more efficiently and at a lower cost. Removing the barriers to routine night operations and flight over people will mean more benefits for more people.”

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