DoT/FAA 3rd Iteration of the UAS regulations → here come the Micro Drones

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Three hundred sixty-six days after the NPRM Operation and Certification of Small Unmanned Aircraft Systems, a proposed 14 CFR Part 107 (iteration #1), the DoT/FAA now has established an aviation rulemaking committee called the Performance Standards and Requirements for Micro Unmanned Aircraft Systems Aviation Rulemaking Committee (the Micro ARC)(Iteration #3). As the press release stated that the Secretary instructed:

faa micro drone regulation

“…industry stakeholders to develop recommendations for a regulatory framework that would allow certain UAS to be operated over people who are not directly involved in the operation of the aircraft. The FAA is taking this action to his action to provide a more flexible, performance-based approach for these operations than what was considered for Micro UAS. The committee will begin its work in March and issue its final report to the FAA on April 1.


The rulemaking committee will develop recommendations for performance-based standards for the classification and operation of certain UAS that can be operated safely over people; identify how UAS manufacturers can comply with the requirements; and propose operational provisions based on the requirements. The FAA will draft a rulemaking proposal after reviewing the committee’s report.”

[emphasis added]

Ironically, this press release and the ARC charter make reference to the comments in the Part 107 rulemaking docket and one or more  proposals, made there, for a new class of UASs which would be subject to a less restrictive set of operating rules. The irony derives from the fact that docket of the Interim Final Rule proposing Registration (Iteration #2) of drones under a new Part 48 and the verbiage surrounding Taylor v. Huerta replete with accusations that the promulgating entities have ignored the venerated Administrative Procedures Act. Now the very same regulators have indicated that they have actually read the docket and found there a proposal to regulate less.

In fact the Administrator is quoted as saying about the Registration ARC:

“‘The speed with which we were able to roll this out is a testament to the invaluable input we received from the diverse task force of stakeholders we brought together to work on this issue,’ he said in a recent speech at a drone policy summit in Washington.”

[emphasis added] 

That confidence in the speed and collective wisdom of the ARC process leads to a completion deadline of April 1, 2016.

faaThe goals of the Micro ARC are to create regulatory language which

  • defines UAS weight and
  • performance parameters
  • of sufficient engineering and physics justification
  • to minimize the risk (to an acceptably small level) that these smaller drones will not injure unassociated persons and property on the ground

PLUS the ARC team

  • Is expected to create the applicable rules
    • flights no higher than___’?
    • daylight and night hours?
    • __ miles near airports?
    • over DC, National Parks, Disneyland, chemical plants
    • only within a line-of-sight?
    • the statutorily required REGISTRATION AND FEE?
    • MORE??

PLUS they are charged with

  • defining how the OEMs will show compliance with the “certification” standards.

That’s a long “to do” list for 30 days which include some holidays!

The Micro ARC is also composed to 26 stakeholders like the Registration ARC. The organizations on the committee include

1. 15  Members who also participated in the Registration Task

  1. 3D Robotics (3DR)
  2. Academy of Model Aeronautics (AMA)
  3. Air Line Pilots Association (ALPA)
  4. Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association
  5. American Association of Airport Executives
  6. Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International
  7. AT&T Technology Operations
  8. Consumer Technology Association (CTA)
  9. DJI
  10. General Aviation Manufacturers Association
  11. GoogleX
  12. GoPro, Inc.
  13. Helicopter Association International (HAI)
  14. National Association of State Aviation Officials
  15. Small UAV Coalition

2. 11 New Members

  1. Alliance for System Safety of UAS through Research Excellence
  2. ASTM International
  3. Experimental Aircraft Association
  4. ICON Aircraft
  5. Intel Corporation
  6. National Agricultural Aviation Association
  7. National Association of Realtors
  8. News Media Coalition
  9. Professional Aerial Photographers Association, International
  10. The American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics
  11. Toy Industry Association, Inc.

The parties were primarily the retailers and some other aviation associations; so the ARC co-leaders Earl Lawrence, Director, FAA UAS Integration Office and Nancy Egan, General Counsel, 3D Robotics, will have to redevelop the consensus.

Quaere: there was a number of post Registration ARC anonymous comments intimating that some of the task force’s recommendations were rejected or ignored. Were those complainers included in the Micro ARC?

The last ARC sprint made its goal and the final DoT/FAA version engendered some dissension, litigation as well as negative industry reaction. The work associated with Registration was far less complicated, did not involve the engineering/physics analysis and had fewer collateral assignments. It will be interesting to watch.

The DoT/FAA’s history of regulating UASs is odd, to say the least. The Part 107 NPRM was the end product of a long, well constituted set of stakeholders. It would be surprising to learn that the committee’s members neither considered registration nor discussed a separate class of Micro drones; their collective knowledge and experience likely would have identified both of those concepts.

  • Why did the final Part 107 proposal for the regulation of small UASs not include these two points?
  • Who deleted them from the proposal?
  • Did the DoT/OMB review process of that now year old NPRM contemplate an iterative approach to regulating?
  • Or are the Part 48 and the Micro, as 2nd and 3rd revisions to the basic regulatory framework, constitute rules by reaction—as the public complains about some aspect (safety= 2nd iteration and easier regime = 3rd proposal) , the regulators roll out a response?

The UAS segment poses future technology challenges for the FAA and as new innovation is introduced (“sense and avoid”, ATC for drones, etc.), it is anticipated that new rules will have to be proposed and implemented.

  • Is it the intention of the DoT/FAA that ARCs will be the predicate to all of the new rules?
  • Does DoT/OMB regard the reaction to the registration as positive and thus as a model for future NPRMs?
  • Or did the negative feedback and litigation suggest that “fast may not be best”?
  • Incremental regulating may be a quick method, but does it result in either well-considered policy or effective rules?

The Administrator’s quote suggests that the ARC process may be preferred, but does an iterative method result in a predictable regulatory regime upon which the industry may rely?


Press Release: FAA Unveils Effort to Expand the Safe Integration of Unmanned Aircraft
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