U.S. President Donald Trump on Friday signed the FAA Reauthorization Act of 2018,a long-sought five-year reauthorization for the Federal Aviation Administration that secures their funding through 2023. The bill covers a range of aviation-related topics, ranging from barring airlines from bumping a passenger who already has been seated on the airplane, to making explicitly clear that pregnant passengers can board ahead of others.
But there are a few drone-related topics in this bill. Here’s what drone pilots need to know:
Government now has ability to track and “disrupt” drones it deems to be a threat
The biggest change for the drone industry is the inclusion of a bill would allow the government to shoot down a drone that “is identified as high-risk and a potential target for unlawful unmanned aircraft activity.” The bill has been highly controversial as it would grant the Department of Homeland Security the ability to “track,” “disrupt,” “control,” and “seize or otherwise confiscate” any drone that the government deems to be a “threat” without needing a warrant or due process.
It had been widely supported by a number of drone groups, including AUVSI, which bills itself as the world’s largest non-profit organization dedicated to the advancement of unmanned systems and robotics.
“By granting authority to government agencies to mitigate threats, they can quickly act to stop them,” said Brian Wynne, president and CEO of AUVSI, in a prepared statement. “Stricter enforcement against careless, reckless and other potentially malicious behavior will not only punish operators who misuse UAS technology but deter others from doing so.”
But the bill was also opposed by groups such as the National Press Photographers Association, the American Civil Liberties Union and the Electronic Frontier Foundation. Opponents said the bill’s language was too broad and could give the government authority to shoot down drones that are flown for legitimate reasons.
New conditions for recreational drone use (including the repeal of Section 336)
Another big change in the Act is a set of new conditions for recreational use of drones, including the immediate repeal of the Special Rule for Model Aircraft.
Section 336 is essentially the law which protected model aircraft from FAA regulation. Drone organizations including the Commercial Drone Alliance have called for the replacement of Section 336, allowing the FAA to regulate recreational drones in “a common sense way.”
Less than thrilled though are other groups like the Academy of Aeronautics, which called the repeal “a devastating blow to innovation.”
“While we support commercial drone endeavors, Congress should not allow for-profit companies to dictate legislation abolishing a segment of the hobby with a strong, eighty-plus year safety record,” according to a statement from the AMA.
Drone community sUAS news has also taken a vocal stance against the repeal.
“This new reauthorization bill gives the FAA a blank check to administratively disenfranchise the millions of citizens who have safety enjoyed the RC Hobby for almost a hundred years,” according to a statement on their website, which it had been encouraging readers to send to their elected officials.
The FAA itself hasn’t said much on the repeal, except for issuing a brief statement. “The agency is evaluating the impacts of this change in the law and how implementation will proceed,” according to the FAA’s statement. “Updated direction and guidance will be provided as the FAA implements this new legislation.”
Other FAA Reauthorization Act changes that drone pilots should be aware of
The FAA Reauthorization Act does also address a few other aspects of the drone industry. One section updates the FAA’s authority over the FAA drone test ranges, first authorized in 2012, by stating that it would more clearly direct research priorities and improve coordination with the FAA.
Another section permits drones operated by an institution of higher education for educational or research purposes to fall under the definition of recreational purpose. That’s of note to The Drone Girl (which got its start at a university which had its drone program shut down by the FAA)!
And another section requires the FAA to publish information on approved small UAS waivers and airspace authorizations and to provide real time data on application status.
The act will continue giving money to fund the Know Before You Fly campaign. Know Before You Fly is a website founded by the Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International (AUVSI) and the Academy of Model Aeronautics (AMA) in partnership with the Federal Aviation Administration with up-to-date airspace information, explaining to drone pilots via maps where they can and cannot fly. The bill specifically states that $1 million will be appropriated to the educational campaign for each of fiscal year 2019 through fiscal year 2023.
There’s a lot more to the act than we’ve covered here, so if you have the time, we recommend you check out the full text here.
The passing of the Reauthorization Act has been praised by a number of industry leaders, including The Alliance for Drone Innovation, a group of key drone industry players including DJI, Kittyhawk, Parrot and GoPro.
“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,” the CDI’s Executive Director Jenny Rosenberg said in a prepared statement. “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.”