Here we go again.
The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) is forming an industry advisory panel to draft requirements for a new category of “micro drones.” Essentially, the FAA wants to allow certain drones to be flown “over people who are not directly involved in the operation of the aircraft.”
The Micro UAS ARC (PDF) will determine which drones are safe to fly over crowds through a performance-based standard. The committee will weigh human injury thresholds, hazard and risk assessment methodologies and acceptable levels of risk for those not involved in the operation.
The committee will outline how manufacturers can meet this safety requirement, which will outline types of materials that won’t harm people in a crash. This could, of course, opening the door for more widespread use of micro drones in crowded places for commercial purposes.
The Micro UAS ARC will begin its work in March and issue its final report to the FAA on April 1.
The FAA contemplated a micro drone classification in a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) that was published on February 23, 2015. As discussed in the NPRM, a drone would be classified a micro drone if it weighed no more than 4.4 pounds and was constructed of fragile materials “that break, distort, or yield on impact so as to present a minimal hazard to any person or object.” However, the FAA didn’t go forward with a micro drone classification as it was “determined that further engagement with industry and stakeholders is needed before conducting rulemaking to address the regulatory framework for micro UAS.”
“The Department continues to be bullish on new technology,” said U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx. “We recognize the significant industry interest in expanding commercial access to the National Airspace System. The short deadline reinforces our commitment to a flexible regulatory approach that can accommodate innovation while maintaining today’s high levels of safety.”
“Based on the comments about a ‘micro’ classification submitted as part of the small UAS proposed rule, the FAA will pursue a flexible, performance-based regulatory framework that addresses potential hazards instead of a classification defined primarily by weight and speed,”said FAA Administrator Michael Huerta.
Another Drone Task Force
Late in 2015, the FAA created the 25-member drone registration task force that advised the administration on its proposed drone registration rules. We know how that turned out, of course. The FAA now requires any user flying drones that weigh between 0.55 pounds (250 grams) and 55 pounds (25 kilograms) to be registered with the FAA.
Registration costs $5 and is valid for three years. Upon completion of the registration process, the web application generates a Certificate of Aircraft Registration/Proof of Ownership that includes a unique identification number for that must be marked on all of your drones.
Failure to register a drone can result in civil penalties up to $27,500, and criminal penalties for failure to register can include fines of up to $250,000.
TechFreedom, a Washington, DC-based think tank, recently filed a petition for review in the District of Columbia Court of Appeals to overturn the mandatory consumer drone registration. TechFreedom claims the FAA’s action violates Section 336 of the FAA Modernization and Reform Act of 2012. This is the second lawsuit to challenge drone registration. On Christmas Eve 2015, just shortly after the system was launched, John Taylor, an insurance lawyer and drone hobbyist who lives in Maryland, sued the FAA over the legality of the registry. Taylor also alleged the FAA’s drone registration system violates Section 336.