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The FAA Reauthorization Act 2016: The Future of Drone Regulations

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Privacy, Data Protection and Security
Tuesday, 03 May 2016 17:55

By: Cara Di Silvio

UnknownOn April 19, the Federal Aviation Administration Reauthorization Act of 2016 passed in the Senate, by a vote of 95-3. Originally the bill was introduced as S.2658 and later merged with H.R.636, an unrelated House bill. The legislation reauthorizes the FAA through 2017 and, ultimately, reinforces the FAA’s authority over drone regulation.

So far this year, over 40 state legislatures have debated bills related to Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS); however, the FAA Reauthorization Act, makes clear that no state can enact laws related to UAS “design, manufacture, testing, licensing, registration, certification, operation, or maintenance of an unmanned aircraft system, including airspace, altitude, flight paths, equipment or technology requirements, purpose of operations, and pilot, operator, and observer qualifications, training, and certification.” The recreational drone safety provisions passed in April remain similar to those in the Consumer Drone Safety Act introduced in 2015. 

Senator John Thune (R-SD) said the FAA “will be better able to grant permission for new and safe drone usage” as a result of this new law. A federally authorized drone program appears to have support from UAS industry companies. Supporters of this approach believe business ventures would become less complex should interstate commerce, such as delivery services, become implemented. The bill specifically approves commercial drone flights during night-time hours which advocates have praised as it allows for further innovation in commercial and delivery drone services.The legislation also calls for increased funding to be used in keeping drones away from airports and enforcement of drone regulations.


Critics of the bill, such as Senator Diane Feinstein (D-CA), proposed eliminating language that gives FAA authority over state regulations. Though she supported the bill as a whole, she strongly opposes specific rules that would prohibit local and state safety laws. Feinstein spoke out against the bill stating, “Reckless drone use varies significantly in different states and even within a state, which is why we need to maintain the ability for states to set their own standards of drone operation.”

PobleteTamargo attorney, Jason Poblete says, “As the State and Federal government jockey to regulate the industry, UAS operators, as well as manufacturers, should closely monitor these developments.”

The House version of FAA Reauthorization legislation has been stalled for some time now. Many reports point to disagreements over a proposal by the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee that would privatize air traffic control operations and place it under a non-profit corporation. This proposal was left out of the version passed by the Senate.

The debate will no doubt continue as research continues on UAS technologies as well as applications. Should companies begin utilizing cross-state delivery services via UAS, the regulatory landscape may drastically change and new safety and privacy concerns will likely develop. Regardless of support or opposition over FAA authority, the bill includes many provisions which outline further research and program development that will benefit the aviation sector as well as the general population. 

More information on the Senate's plans for the future of aviation can be found on the Senate Committee for Commerce, Science and Transportation's summary of FAA Reauthorization.


The full text of the FAA Reauthorization Bill can be found here

See Sec. 2124 for information on the effects on state and local regulations.



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