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Congress drones on: FAA Reauthorization Act paves way for unmanned aircraft integration

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The long-awaited Federal Aviation Administration Reauthorization Act will soon make its way to the president’s desk–its last stop before becoming law. It passed the Senate 93-6 Wednesday after passing the house 398-23 last week.

In addition to funding the FAA for the next five years, the bill includes language that could be used to further integrate unmanned aircraft systems, like drones, into the commercial landscape.

A report prepared by the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee and the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation states the bill “promotes safe, efficient integration of UAS” by doing the following:

  • Advances low-altitude UAS traffic management (UTM) systems and services.

  • Fosters development of sense-and-avoid and other technologies at UAS test ranges.

  • Provides greater flexibility to FAA to approve advanced UAS operations.

  • Updates the special rule for model aircraft.

  • Provides the Department of Homeland Security and the Department of Justice with the authority to protect covered facilities and assets when there is a security risk posed by an unmanned aircraft.

  • Includes new provisions to address privacy protections for unmanned aircraft.

  • Improves UAS test range rules, including more protections for proprietary information.

  • Directs FAA to update existing regulations to authorize the carriage of property by operators of small UAS and authorizes DOT to update existing regulations for UAS package delivery.

  • Directs the National Academy of Public Administration to assess FAA’s small UAS registration system and requires DOT to develop and track metrics to assess system compliance and effectiveness.

  • Requires the GAO to study financing options related to UAS regulation and safety oversight

The FAA Reauthorization Act could impact virtually every aspect of the way humans interact with drones, including deliveries. It gives the FAA one year to create regulations for UAS deliveries.

New regulations could pave the way for drone delivery of consumer goods to become commonplace as technology continues to evolve and customer expectations continue to grow.

The FAA has already completed four tests to date as part of its Unmanned Aircraft Systems Integration Pilot Program, including delivering medical supplies, a Popsicle and bait for feral hogs. The tests also included beyond-line-of-sight flights aimed at agriculture applications.

Six more tests are expected to be performed as part of the program over the next two years. The program is intended to aid the government in determining proper uses and safety regulations for drones.

The legislation has garnered praise from both the Consumer Technology Association and the Alliance for Drone Innovation.

“The UAS title in this bill helps clear the way for the FAA to implement beyond-line-of-sight, flight-over-people and nighttime drone operations, which our nation needs to fully realize the benefits of drone technology,” CTA CEO Gary Shapiro said in a media release. “The UAS title also outlines ways consumers may fly their drones responsibly without being grounded by unreasonable rules. The drone portion of this bill provides a boost of clarity and confidence to this growing sector of the tech industry.”

CTA’s members are made up of both commercial and recreational drone companies.

The Alliance for Drone Innovation exists to advance public policies encouraging a culture of safety while promoting in the UAS industry for personal, professional, educational and governmental use in the United States, according to its mission statement.

“The Alliance for Drone Innovation is thrilled that House and Senate leadership worked tirelessly together and with input from industry to pass legislation that provides a long-term FAA authorization and reinforces the agency’s central role in regulating the National Airspace System,” Alliance for Drone Innovation Executive Director Jenny Rosenberg said. “This bill confirms Congress’s intent to support the ongoing work to safely integrate drones into our airspace. We applaud the critical new tools that FAA will have to help ensure drones and traditional aircraft can safely share the skies.”

The Academy for Model Aeronautics has been one of the strongest voices against the bill’s drone legislation on the condition that it imposes burdensome restrictions on the use of model aircraft, primarily by hobbyists.

–Ashley Coker

Ashley Coker

Ashley is interested in everything that moves, especially trucks and planes. She covers air cargo, trucking and sponsored content. She studied journalism at Middle Tennessee State University and worked as an editor and reporter at two daily newspapers before joining FreightWaves. Ashley spends her free time at the dog park with her beagle, Ruth, or scouring the internet for last minute flight deals.