House Gallery Hallway Harp MedallionThe Senate’s version of the FAA Reauthorization Act of 2016 has finally made it out of committee, and it contains 65 pages of requirements for unmanned aircraft systems (UAS). If enacted, the legislation could have a profound impact on the development of this industry.

The bill will require all small UAS to meet design and production standards within one year
from enactment.

If enacted, the bill would reverse the course the FAA has taken with the small UAS rule, where airworthiness certification will only be required for vehicles that operate over people or beyond visual line
of sight.

Another major philosophical change in the bill is the requirement that all operators (even model aircraft pilots) pass an “aeronautical knowledge and safety test.” The FAA would have 180 days to put the testing process in place after the bill becomes law.

The Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation also made three significant, last-minute additions to the bill.

  1. The first establishes a two-year deadline for the FAA to create a new operating certificate for unmanned aircraft package delivery operators.
  2. The second gives the FAA nine months to establish a rule for micro UAS (under two kilograms, or 4.4 pounds) that would not require a pilot’s certificate and would be operated similarly to model aircraft.
  3. The third gives the FAA nine months to develop standards for UAS operations by institutions of “higher education.” If the FAA does not complete the standards on time, the institutions can essentially operate on the same basis as model aircraft.

Given the significant differences between the House and Senate versions of the FAA Reauthorization, it is unclear what legislation will ultimately emerge when the House and Senate finish negotiating. The time for the industry to make its voice heard is short, and the time to act is now.

Do you get the feeling that the Senate (and perhaps the House as well) is sick and tired of watching the FAA play cozy for the benefit of their task force members? Do you think this is a shot across the bows about what will need to be in the NPRM 107 when it comes out in less than 90 days?
I do.
And I am very glad to see a burden put on the manufacturers who so far have enjoyed a free ride. Certainly if any of the ideas that Sens. Feinstein and Schumer have been proposing like mandatory geofencing software is to be put in place, this is an essential first step.
I am also glad to see some teeth put in the idea of certification, though the Committee did not go so far as to mandate a proficiency demonstration. I have been writing about this for a long time – if drones are really such an extreme threat to the NAS, why not demand that the pilot prove they are competent. If the jobs are there, the schools will spring up and there will quickly be a trained workforce. One can assume this will be the case with the delivery operator certification – though you can bet that the industry will argue that autonomous, BLOS operations are an essential part of the economic model.
As noted by the authors, it will be interesting to see what happens when the House considers this.

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