Sunday, September 17, 2017

Some Drone Regulations Delayed, Others Postponed Indefinitely: Highly anticipated rules await government approval, but timeline is pushed back to late 2018 or early 2019

Federal Aviation Administration head Michael Huerta left the stage after speaking about the FAA’s drone policy at CES 2017 in Las Vegas, on January 6, 2017.

The Wall Street Journal
By Andy Pasztor
Sept. 17, 2017 7:00 a.m. ET

Recently released government documents contradict drone industry predictions of relatively swift federal approvals for expanded commercial operations.

Updates to a Transportation Department regulatory website highlight anticipated delays in such rules under President Donald Trump’s administration, versus faster timelines envisioned prior to his election. Certain other proposed rules for unmanned aircraft apparently have been deferred indefinitely. The slips partly reflect personnel vacancies and policy reviews.

Final rules allowing small unmanned aircraft to fly over crowds or populated areas, once projected to be released by late 2017, likely won’t be released until late 2018 or early 2019, according to details on the site and interpretations by industry experts.

The original draft was slated to be cleared for publication by the White House Office of Management and Budget before last Christmas. Now White House vetting and release of a draft aren’t expected to be completed before late February 2018 at the earliest, with analyses of subsequent industry comments likely to stretch for many more months after that.

Since September 2016, the FAA has approved more than 1,000 individual waivers from existing limits. In an interview this month, FAA chef Michael Huerta said “I’m not going to speculate” on precise timing for comprehensive new rules.

Industry leaders contend mandatory changes—eagerly sought by operators—are vital for increasing commercial opportunities of unmanned aircraft. “They are unbelievably frustrated” because “it seems in many respects everything has come to a halt,” according to Mark Dombroff, a former high-ranking government aviation attorney and a partner in the law firm Dentons US LLP. “There’s almost a resignation that has set in.”

A second package of FAA rules, intended to promote broader uses of drones by “encouraging innovation in this rapidly developing segment of the aviation industry,” seems to have lost momentum altogether. The previous administration envisioned White House clearance of these preliminary rules by the end of this year. The updated document lists no timetable for such proposals, avoiding all public deadlines for drafting, vetting or releasing them.

In addition, it’s likely to take many months to test the reliability of remote identification technology, and then incorporate those lessons into binding regulations.

Likewise, airworthiness certification of individual models—a normal process for the rest of the aviation world—tends to be costly and time-consuming. But without this FAA safety endorsement, drone operators for at least the next year or two probably will have to request case-by-case exemptions to reserve airspace or permit more-advanced missions. “The next steps are the most difficult,” Mr. Dombroff predicts.

Brian Wynne, president and chief executive of the Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International, the industry’s largest trade organization, notes “there’s a lot of activity” but “I’m never satisfied with the speed.”

Original article can be found here ➤

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