CEI Submits Comments to FAA on Small Drone Certification and Operations Proposed Rules

Today, I submitted comments to the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) on behalf of CEI on its notice of proposed rulemaking for small unmanned aircraft systems (sUAS) certification and operations. We make three main points.

First, we question why the FAA is using its case-by-case exemption authority as the basis for this rulemaking, as opposed to the actual rulemaking section of the same law that Congress passed in 2012. This was the last FAA reauthorization and Congress included a subtitle on unmanned aircraft systems. Section 332, among other things, ordered the FAA to promulgate final rules integrating sUAS into the National Airspace System. But instead of relying on Section 332, as Congress required, the FAA in this proceeding is relying on Section 333, which granted the FAA authority to approve sUAS operations on a case-by-case basis until it had promulgated the sUAS integration rules mandated by Section 332. There are several potential explanations for why the FAA is relying on Section 333, none of them good, but we ask the FAA to explain its reasoning.

Second, we argued that the FAA’s proposed rules overly restrict potential valuable, and safe, sUAS operations. These include flying beyond the visual line of sight from operators or visual observers, flying after dark, using sensors and cameras to meet “see-and-avoid” requirements, and flying multiple sUAS under the control of a single operator. Most of these operations will be needed to support the advanced commercial services, such as parcel delivery, that get many excited about these technologies. Unfortunately, the FAA’s current proposal appears to either greatly restrict or outright prohibit these operations.

Finally, we urge the FAA to take a risk-based, technology-neutral approach and to develop performance-based regulations, rather than technical design rules, to best promote sUAS innovation and airspace integration. The FAA argues it is doing these things, but as we noted in our section on operations, they are not going nearly far enough and appear to be unnecessarily restricting valuable operations in order to meet an overcautious level of safety.

Most of the substantive comments from industry, academia, and advocacy groups will likely be submitted today. Stay tuned for analysis of these comment filings next week once they are posted on the Web.

Read our full comments here.