No Firm Date For UAV Rules As FAA, Industry Launch Safety Campaign

Aerial MOB

Concerned that tens of thousands Americans will receive small quadcopters as gifts this holiday season, the FAA and industry have teamed to produce educational materials available on a website and in social media channels in an attempt to prevent potential accidents in the air and on the ground.

The action comes as industry awaits the FAA’s first attempt to formally regulate the burgeoning sector with new rules for commercial applications of small unmanned air systems (UAS), defined as weighing less than 55 lb.

Agency officials have said the Notice of Proposed Rulemaking would be issued before year’s end, but FAA Administrator Michael Huerta, addressing reporters during the “Know Before You Fly” campaign on Dec. 22, would not commit to a date.

“We’re working very closely with our administration colleagues and are very focused on getting it out as quickly as we can,” Huerta says. “It’s a very complicated rule and we want to get it right.”

The safety campaign, launched in conjunction with the Association of Unmanned Vehicle Systems International, Academy of Model Aeronautics and the Small UAV Coalition, instructs operators to follow the rules set for recreational model aircraft use—stay below 400 ft. above the ground, keep the aircraft in sight and away from people and stadiums, and avoid flying near manned aircraft or within 5 mi. of an airport, unless approved to do so by the FAA or the airport. The materials also advise operators to inspect the vehicles before flight and to fly only for fun—not for payment or commercial services. The group says it will work with UAV manufacturers in the coming weeks to put the information in the packaging for the devices.

Although the FAA is promoting “voluntary compliance” with the rules through education, Huerta warns that careless or reckless operations that endanger people or other aircraft can lead to fines. He says the “overwhelming” majority of users are operating safely, but that the agency also knows there are “rogue actors” and others who are not familiar with the rules. Enforcement actions can include warning notices, letters of correction and civil penalties, he adds.

Huerta denies the agency has been “soft” on its approval and enforcement policies for a small set of commercial operators flying UAS, an allegation spelled out in a Dec. 22 Washington Post article.

“As with any new technology, you’re going to have different points of view with different opinions and we welcome that because that’s how we get to ensuring that we can develop the best regulations and the best mitigations to put in place,” he says. “I’m very confident we have a very open process; we have a transparent and a thoughtful process that is very focused on how we stage integration into the [national airspace system] but to do it in a safe manner.”

The article states that FAA had ignored some safety inspectors’ concerns when approving applications from commercial operators to fly the vehicles under the so-called Section 333 of the 2012 FAA reauthorization legislation. That legislation allows for exemptions to the ban on commercial UAV operations where the risk to people or property is low.

FAA earlier this month granted five exemptions for commerical UAS operations to four companies, raising the total number of granted exemptions to a dozen. The initial round of exemptions focused on companies performing videography. The latest exemptions are for aerial surveying, construction site monitoring and oil rig flare stack inspections.

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