[Avionics Today 05-14-2015] The Commercial UAS Modernization Act, introduced by Senators Corey Booker, D-N.J., and John Hoeven, R-N.D., aims to establish an interim rule governing small Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS) operations in U.S. airspace. Both lawmakers are looking to reduce the regulatory burden commercial operators currently face and maximize the use of FAA UAS test sites to jumpstart the potential billion-dollar UAS industry.
Panoptes eBumper technology on the popular DJI Phantom Unmanned Aircraft System (UAS). Photo: Panoptes.
Most of the provisions within the lawmaker’s proposed Commercial UAS Modernization Act are designed to provide interim operating regulations for small UAS until the FAA's UAS Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) is finalized. The FAA’s NPRM, published in February, would permit commercial UAS operations at a maximum altitude of 500 feet above ground level when within visual line of sight. The public comment period for that NPRM has already passed, and most UAS experts do not expect the FAA to publish finalized rules until 2016 or even 2017.
If the Booker and Hoeven’s legislation is passed, the FAA would be required to develop an initial aeronautical knowledge test within 30 days of its enactment. The law would add Sec. 338 to the FAA Modernization and Reform Act of 2012, which includes a requirement that the FAA "expedite and expand exemptions from the interim operating restrictions.” Sec. 338 (a) would also require the appointment of a Deputy Associate Administrator for unmanned aircraft that would report to the FAA administrator and secretary of transportation.
“There is so much potential that can be unlocked if we lay the proper framework to support innovation in unmanned aircraft systems,” Sen. Booker said in a statement released along with the newly proposed legislation. “But right now, the U.S. is falling behind other countries because we lack rules for the safe operation of commercial UAS technology. The Commercial UAS Modernization Act sets up clear and immediate rules of the road, helping to lay a foundation that will allow us to make cutting-edge progress in a rapidly emerging field."
The New Jersey senator's comments reflect the concerns some UAS advocacy groups have expressed in recent years, as the U.S. continues to fall further behind other nations in the use of unmanned aircraft for civil and commercial operations. Not only does the FAA's current approval process feature heavy regulatory burdens, it also limits the amount of research that companies such as Amazon can perform that would help them produce a concept of operations for more complex processes — like, for example, the research German logistics giant DHL Parcel is currently conducting for Beyond Line of Sight (BLOS) UAS medicine delivery to the North Sea Island of Juist.
While the FAA's Section 333 exemption process has produced 300 approvals for commercial UAS operations, the Commercial UAS Modernization Act would further expedite integration for more business opportunities. For example, the new Deputy Administrator would be tasked with resolving unmanned aircraft spectrum issues, barriers to UAS operations beyond line of sight, and roadblocks to using automated unmanned aircraft systems, according to the bill.
Additionally, the FAA would be tasked with establishing a joint aircraft system research and development data collection and analysis program at the William J. Hughes Technical Center in Washington, D.C. One of the more progressive provisions in the legislation also requires the FAA and NASA to establish an Air Traffic Management (ATM) pilot program to research and test a new regulatory structure for commercial UAS operations in controlled and uncontrolled airspace below 1,200 feet above ground level.