FAA needs to speed unmanned-aircraft rulemaking

Technology ‘advancing faster’ than regulations, say groups

April 8, 2014

A judge’s recent ruling that cast doubt on the FAA’s power to regulate small unmanned aircraft systems underscores the need for a safety framework for the flights, said a diverse group of organizations in a letter to FAA Administrator Michael Huerta.

AOPA is among 33 organizations calling on the agency to step up its plans for integration of UAS into the national airspace system—action that in the first decade would create 100,000 jobs and $82 billion in economic activity, they said.

"However the publication of the Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) for small UAS remains a missing and critical piece of the puzzle. Meanwhile, the recent FAA v. Pirker decision underscored the immediate need for a safety structure and regulatory framework for small UAS," wrote the organizations, ranging from the Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International, AOPA, and other aviation associations to agricultural groups, media, real estate, and law enforcement interests.

In March, the FAA asked the National Transportation Safety Board to review an administrative judge’s ruling that threw out a $10,000 fine the FAA levied against a photographer, Raphael Pirker, for flying a "drone" commercially near the University of Virginia to gather video. The NTSB judge ruled that the FAA had no regulations covering the UAS flight, undermining the agency’s long-held claim to the contrary.

The associations, in their April 8 letter to Huerta, added that "the current regulatory void" has left entrepreneurs "either sitting on the sidelines or operating in the absence of appropriate safety guidelines."

They urged the FAA to permit a proven solution of community-based safety programming "to allow the small UAS industry to establish appropriate standards for safe operation."

The groups also urged the FAA, as it pursues its appeal of the Pirker case, to simultaneously expedite rulemaking for small unmanned aircraft—an area where "the technology is advancing faster than the  regulations to govern it."

Dan Namowitz

Dan Namowitz | Aviation Writer

Dan Namowitz is an aviation writer and flight instructor. He has been a pilot since 1985 and an instructor since 1990.