FAA UAS Rule May Reflect New Standards

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The FAA's next major rulemaking effort may reflect a shift in agency standards that could hobble one emerging sector and set the tone for the rest of the industry, according to a Washington-based consultant. Gary Church, of Aviation Management Associates, has been representing companies developing unmanned aerial systems for several years and he told AVweb in a podcast interview he believes the forthcoming notice of proposed rulemaking on UASs will set a new standard for safety regulations. He said the agency appears to be aiming for a "do no harm" regime called a "targeted level of safety" that may realistically be unachievable. He also expects legal challenges to the current ban on commercial use of small UASs if the agency continues to drag its feet in establishing regulations.

Church said the commercial ban is rooted in policy rather than regulation since there are no UAS regulations yet. Legally speaking, policies can't be enforced and violators of policy can't be sanctioned. However, the FAA is now using the "bully pulpit" of its reputation for tough enforcement to intimidate the UAS industry into compliance in the absence of its legal authority. The issue came to light with the shutting down of UAS operations doing movie and real estate work, but Church said there are thousands of organizations and companies, including 18,000 police departments, anxious to put small UAVs to work. The FAA had hoped to have an NPRM out by the end of January but the schedule has slipped to sometime "this spring."