Why the FAA Reauthorization Bill Wins Praise from Drone Industry

FAA update drone, drone news of the week new FAA Administrator, Billy Nolen Acting Administrator BVLOS ARC recommendations FAA ARC BVLOS Flight NOTAM name change new LAANC providersBoosting the Skies: Drone Industry Celebrates FAA Reauthorization Bill

By DRONELIFE Features Editor Jim Magill

(The following is the first in a series of articles on how the recent passage of the bill to reauthorize the FAA positively impacts the drone and eVTOL industries.)

In a move expected to dramatically boost the growth of commercial and recreational drone usage, the U.S. House of Representatives on May 15 voted to approve a bill that will reauthorize the Federal Aviation Administration.

The legislation passage marked a rare instance of bipartisanship in the current bitterly divided Congress. The House passed the bill by 387-26 vote, less than a week after the Senate approved the legislation of a vote of 88-4. The reauthorization will now go to President Biden’s desk to be signed into law.

The bill, which has garnered praise from advocates representing virtually all segments of the drone and advanced aviation industries, will provide more than $105 billion in funding for the FAA over the next five years.

Among other provisions, the reauthorization bill facilitates the commercial use of drones and unmanned aircraft in a number of ways. The legislation:

  • Directs the FAA to issue a notice of proposed rule-making for rules governing beyond visual line-of-sight (BVLOS) operations for unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) within four months. The FAA has been directed to issue a final BVLOS rule no later than 16 months after the issuance of the proposed rule.
  • Gives the FAA administrator authority to issue expedited approvals ‘‘to enable low-risk beyond visual line of sight operations, including, at a minimum, package delivery operations, extended visual line of sight operations, or shielded operations within 100 feet of the ground.”
  • Creates two additional test sites for companies to start using unmanned aircraft for package delivery or other operations.
  • Extends the BEYOND program which centers around developing standards, engaging communities and informing policies to facilitate the safe deployment and operation of drones.

The reauthorization also promotes the development of a national advanced aviation mobility system, which creates pathways for the integration of electric vertical takeoff and landing (eVTOL) aircraft, commonly known as air taxis, into the national airspace system.

It also promotes further UAS and AAM research with the goal of incorporating drones and eVTOL aircraft into the national airspace system, including promoting the use of drones by first responders.

Proponents from various segments of the drone and eVTOL industries praised the legislation for the steps it takes to promote the growth of their industries.

In an interview, Lisa Ellman, executive director of the Commercial Drone Alliance, said the CDA had worked closely with both the Senate and the House committee members and committee staff to achieve virtually all of the group’s objectives in the final legislation.

“We’re really thrilled with the drone provisions in the bill,” she said. “I think it really gives our industry some much needed stability.”

Ellman said the reauthorization bill will help to further the CDA’s goal of enabling the United States “to maintain and enhance global leadership in advanced aviation, including commercial drones.”

Michael Robbins, president and CEO of the Association for Uncrewed Vehicle Systems International (AUVSI), said the group began working with congressional leaders in the summer of 2022 to ensure that its hoped-for outcomes were included in the final legislation.

“Almost two years ago we began soliciting input from our members on our top FAA reauthorization priorities and I’m delighted that a lot of our top priorities are in the bill and are going to help to move the industry forward in a very meaningful way,” he said in an interview.

Among the most important aspects of the legislation was Section 930, which deals with establishing a timetable for the FAA to put forward a comprehensive BVLOS rule.

“I think that’s important because it really puts some boundaries on the FAA in terms of getting this rule done and we know the FAA wants to get the rule done,” Robbins said. “However, the rulemaking process, as we all know, can be slow and sometimes get caught up. So, having this sort of balance put in place by Congress is very helpful.”

The reauthorization bill also serves the needs of recreational drone users by amending altitude restrictions contained in earlier reauthorization legislation, said Tyler Dobbs, senior director of government affairs for the Academy of Model Aeronautics.

“We keep a close eye on the FAA reauthorization and actually began working with Congress as the last bill was passed in 2018 to make some needed changes,” he said.

When the FAA reauthorization was passed in 2018, it put a 400-foot altitude restriction on UAS operations in Class G or uncontrolled airspace without the possibility of allowing pilots to applying for permission to achieve higher altitudes

“You would think that out in the middle of nowhere, in uncontrolled airspace, it would be easier to request altitudes,” Dobbs said. “This new bill does put a process in place that will allow those at fixed flying sites to request higher altitudes, whether they’re in controlled airspace or uncontrolled airspace.”

The reauthorization bill also attracted favorable comments from representatives of the eVTOL production industry.

In a press statement, Lilium, a German manufacturer of eVTOL aircraft, said the company welcomed plans to update Special Federal Aviation Regulation (SFAR) on powered-lift certifications and operations by the end of 2024.

We are encouraged to see lawmakers take concrete steps toward ensuring the creation of operating rules necessary for eVTOL aircraft,” said Lilium CEO Klaus Roewe. “The U.S. is a globally important market for aircraft like the Lilium Jet and we welcome this additional guidance from Congress as we seek dual certification in both the U.S. and at home in Europe.”

(Part 2 of this series will examine how the bill to reauthorize the FAA will help spur the growth of the U.S. commercial drone industry by creating certainty around the prompt development of a final rule on BVLOS flights.)

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Jim mug2Jim mug2Jim Magill is a Houston-based writer with almost a quarter-century of experience covering technical and economic developments in the oil and gas industry. After retiring in December 2019 as a senior editor with S&P Global Platts, Jim began writing about emerging technologies, such as artificial intelligence, robots and drones, and the ways in which they’re contributing to our society. In addition to DroneLife, Jim is a contributor to Forbes.com and his work has appeared in the Houston Chronicle, U.S. News & World Report, and Unmanned Systems, a publication of the Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International.

Miriam McNabbMiriam McNabb

Miriam McNabb is the Editor-in-Chief of DRONELIFE and CEO of JobForDrones, a professional drone services marketplace, and a fascinated observer of the emerging drone industry and the regulatory environment for drones. Miriam has penned over 3,000 articles focused on the commercial drone space and is an international speaker and recognized figure in the industry.  Miriam has a degree from the University of Chicago and over 20 years of experience in high tech sales and marketing for new technologies.
For drone industry consulting or writing, Email Miriam.


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