A Step towards Commercial UAS Flights in Oregon

A step towards commercial UAS (Unmanned Aircraft Systems, popularly called drones – a term disliked in the aviation community) flights in Oregon was announced by the Federal Aviation Administration.

Some months ago the FAA issued an Order that designated six test sites for UAS operations, http://www.faa.gov/about/initiatives/uas/media/Order_Selecting_Six_UAS_Test_Sites.pdf ,with the University of Alaska chosen to be the operator for test ranges in Alaska, Oregon, and Hawaii. On May 5 the FAA announced that the University was authorized to begin UAS flights to conduct animal surveys in Fairbanks. Expecting the University to operate near the Fairbanks International Airport, the FAA wrote in a press release that “data about operating near airports will be used to prepare for other operations near airports” at partner test sites in Oregon and Hawaii. http://www.faa.gov/news/press_releases/news_story.cfm?newsId=16194 The Oregonian newspaper reported on May 9 that test flights in Oregon will begin this summer.

Before this announcement, the only commercial use authorized by the FAA was in the Arctic. http://www.faa.gov/about/initiatives/uas/uas_faq/

The FAA’s view is that commercial UAS operations are barred unless the commercial operator obtains an Experimental Airworthiness Certificate or a Certificate of Waiver or Authorization. http://www.faa.gov/news/fact_sheets/news_story.cfm?newsId=14153 Aviation Week and Space Technology’s May 12 edition notes that the FAA has sent more than a dozen cease-and-desist letters to UAS operators.

Proposed and, according to the FAA, currently barred uses include delivery of its Frosty Winter Lager by Lakemaid Beer to ice fisherman:

as well as Amazon’s delivery of packages:

Had this next video been filmed in the US (and not in Vancouver, British Columbia), the FAA would similarly conclude that at least the outdoors portion of the video was not permitted.

Ominously, though the FAA is working on it, a proposed set of UAS regulations are not expected to be announced until this summer or fall. Public comments will then be sought and considered before publication of actual regulations. AVweb states that, according to one estimate, a comprehensive set of regulations may not be in place until 2020. http://www.avweb.com/avwebflash/news/Drone-Rules-Likely-Years-Away221998-1.html The FAA thus far is understandably close mouthed about just what it will propose. Indeed, following his presentation at the 2014 Aviation Insurance Association meeting in Phoenix on May 5, James Williams, Manager of the UAS Integration Office of the FAA, told me that he was not permitted to say whether there might be different proposed rules based on the size of the UAS.

Challenges to the FAA’s right to control and regulate commercial UAS operations are pending. On March 6, 2014, NTSB Law Judge Geraghty dismissed a $10,000 civil penalty imposed on an operator who remotely operated a powered glider above the University of Virginia, finding there was no enforceable FAA rule or federal regulation that controlled UAS operations. For a copy of Judge Geraghty’s Order, just request a copy from me at Rosen@RosenLawFirm.com . The FAA appealed Judge Geraghty’s Order to the full NTSB Board and the Judge’s order is stayed until the Board issues its ruling. The FAA now faces a second legal challenge. Search-and-rescue organization Texas Equusearch has sued the FAA in federal court, seeking to set aside an FAA order that grounded use of its UAS systems for missing people. http://www.foxnews.com/us/2014/04/22/texas-search-group-sues-faa-over-drone-use/

One thing is clear, which is that UAS technology has advanced and will continue to advance faster than FAA regulation.

Steve Rosen