Feburary 14, 2012
President Obama sent a Valentine’s Day present to the aviation community, including the unmanned systems industry, signing the long-overdue Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) bill into law on 14 Feb., which includes important provisions on the integration of unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) into the national airspace system.
The last time Congress passed an FAA bill was in 2003, when UAS were just starting to show their value and viability in military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan. In recognition of how fast UAS technology is advancing, in addition to the huge potential civil and commercial market, Congress included language requiring the FAA to expedite the safe integration of UAS into the national airspace. Congress set a deadline of 30 Sept. 2015 for full integration. Start the clock!
“Technology is advancing to the point where we now know these systems can reliably fly. The next step is to work on the regulations that govern the rules of the sky to ensure that unmanned aircraft do no harm to other manned aircraft or to people or property on the ground,” said AUVSI’s President and CEO, Michael Toscano. “We applaud the foresight of Congress and look forward to working with the FAA to implement these requirements.”
Some of the major UAS provisions in the FAA bill include:
- Setting a 30 Sept., 2015 deadline for full integration of UAS into the national airspace
- Requiring a comprehensive integration plan within nine months
- Requiring the FAA to create a five-year UAS roadmap (which should be updated annually)
- Requiring small UAS (under 55lbs) to be allowed to fly within 27 months
- Requiring six UAS test sites within six months (similar to the language in the already-passed defense bill)
- Requiring small UAS (under 55lbs) be allowed to fly in the U.S. Arctic, 24 hours a day, beyond line-of-sight, at an altitude of at least 2,000 feet, within one year
- Requiring expedited access for public users, such as law enforcement, firefighters, emergency responders
- Allowing first responders to fly very small UAS (4.4lbs or less) within 90 days if they meet certain requirements. The goal is to get law enforcement and firefighters immediate access to start flying small systems to save lives and increase public safety. Although 4.4lbs doesn’t sound like a lot, there are numerous platforms available that meet this requirement.
- Requiring the FAA to study UAS human factors and causes of accidents
The bill also includes an exemption for model aircraft, as long as the aircraft weighs less than 55lbs and follows a set of community-based safety standards