Is Congress The Real Reason Behind The FAA’s Delays? (Revised)


Below is my response to an item by Brett Davis posted at AUVSI.ORG  “Lawmakers: Integration Goalposts to Shift, but FAA Should Move Faster”

Listening carefully to what Jim Williams (FAA Unmanned Aircraft Systems office) said at the sUAS Business Expo in California (go to 03:36:40)  I gleaned that what he didn’t say but at the same time made very clear to me, and that is that the rule making process is being hindered by “deregulation” processes coming from the same Congress that issued the “mandate” for making rules. It’s taking a long time simply because it’s a maze of catch-22 hurdles which Congress now requires for any new regulations.

The FAA can’t be expected to act “faster” when the road is full of speed bumps.

indexYes, the progress by the FAA has been impeded by the rules of rule making, but the answer is not to put pressure back on Congress because Congress is a one-way pipeline.

OK, so what was the message inside the message from Williams? What did my FAA source mean by saying we might expect something by “early fall” rather than “November or later”?

Williams specifically mentioned by name Section 333 of the FAA Reauthorization and Reform Act of 2012 -, shown here:

SEC. 333. SPECIAL RULES FOR CERTAIN UNMANNED AIRCRAFT SYSTEMS.

(a) IN GENERAL

.—Notwithstanding any other requirement of this subtitle, and not later than 180 days after the date of enactment of this Act, the Secretary of Transportation shall determine if certain unmanned aircraft systems may operate safely in the national airspace system before completion of the plan and rule-making required by section 332 of this Act or the guidance required by section 334 of this Act.

Well, so much for the “180 days” part, but this may be how they might be planning to get there. To me, that means they really are trying, despite all the roadblocks, speed bumps and outside pressures from the ATSM, AOPA, and others.

On the other side, is the AOPA, and many of their members would pretty much like to see competition from sUAVs go away, and requiring sUAV operators to be licensed commercial pilots would be one”solution”, while the DOD manufacturers would like to sell their converted military “drones” to as many law enforcement agencies as they can and to them the real estate and movie photographer is of no concern. Then there is the little matter of the international ATSM F38 “standards” which could throw a very large wrench into the entire process by treating a 3 pound camera quadcopter the same as a very large re-purposed Predator, with plenty of room for ATS-B, collision avoidance systems and radar .

I would hope to see the FAA initiating some basic initial processes even before November, such as:

  1. Providing for initial registration of UAV operators. Then when the certification process is determined the structure will be there to administrate it.
  2. “Suggesting” that manufacturers distribute general safety procedures to registered owners.
  3. Allowing TEMPORARY authorization for REGISTERED operators with liability insurance for LIMITED commercial operation. Then if the operator does something stupid the FAA can “suspend” that registration pending investigation rather than clogging up the NTSB with a few hundred cases they may not win.

These steps might make it possible for registered “operators” to get liability insurance. Currently insurance companies either want extremely large premiums ($1900 to $7500 per year) or they won’t write it at all until sUAV’s are “legal” (another catch-22).

We can only wait and hope.

Stay tuned…

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