On January 14, 2019, Department of Transportation Secretary Elaine L. Chao announced three new Department proposals to encourage the safe testing and deployment of drones. Secretary Chao made these announcements at the Transportation Research Board Annual Meeting in Washington, D.C.
3 Major announcements:
- The proposed new rule allows drones to fly at night and over people without a without a waiver or an exemption if certain conditions are met
- The second proposal is the UAS Safe and Secure ANPRM. This new proposal identifies major drone safety and security issues that may pose a threat to other aircraft, to people on the ground or national security
- Unmanned Aircraft Systems Traffic Management System Pilot Project (UPP)
The federal government has unveiled a long-awaited set of proposals to expand commercial drone flights while considering safety concerns. “First, at long last, the Department is ready to issue for comment a proposed new rule that would allow drones to fly overnight and over people without waivers if certain conditions are met,” Chao said.
Currently, FAA regulations do not permit drone pilots to fly at night without a waiver. The proposed rule would allow drones to operate at night WITHOUT a waiver if the following conditions are met:
- the operator has received appropriate training
- the operator has completed approved testing
- the drone is equipped with anti-collision lighting
FAA regulations also prohibit drone flights over people. The proposed rule would allow drones to make routine flights over people WITHOUT a waiver or an exemption under certain conditions. These conditions depend upon the level of risk to people on the ground. The FAA proposes three categories of permissible operations over people based on the risk of injury they present: Category 1, Category 2, and Category 3.
U.S. Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao expressed that the department was aware of drone safety issues. “The department is keenly aware that there are legitimate public concerns about drones, concerning safety, security, and privacy,” Chao said at the speech.
Recent events overseas, such as the drone incident at Gatwick airport, have highlighted concerns about the potential for drones to disrupt aviation and the national airspace. So along with this new proposed rule, the Department is working on two other proposals to address drone safety and national security.
The DOT announced it was issuing an advance notice of proposed rulemaking (ANPRM) - UAS Safe and Secure ANPRM. This new proposal identifies major drone safety and security issues that may pose a threat to other aircraft, to people on the ground, or national security. The DOT is encouraging the public to weigh in with comments and recommendations. In the proposal, you will find a list of questions allowing the public to raise any concerns and make recommendations.
Finally, the DOT Secretary Chao announced the Unmanned Aircraft Systems Traffic Management System Pilot Program. UAS UTM Pilot Project (UPP) will run until September 2019. The FAA has selected three contracts:
- Nevada UAS Test Site Smart Silver State
- Northern Plains Unmanned Aircraft Systems Test Site
- Virginia Tech Mid-Atlantic Aviation Partnership
Last year, the FAA selected ten sites for the UAS Integrated Pilot Program (IPP) tasked with testing and collecting data on the safe operation of drones in a variety of conditions currently prohibited by law. The UPP program awardees will “develop technology to provide flight planning, communications, separation, and weather services for these drones, which will operate under 400 feet.” Chao states that the, “unmanned aircraft traffic management system will be separate from, but complementary to, the traditional FAA air traffic management system.”
While these new rules and initiatives will take time to implement, they are a step in the right direction to integrate UAS into the national airspace safely. The proposed drone regulations allowing UAS flight at night and over crowds along with the UPP proposal will be beneficial in advancing beyond visual line of sight operations and commercial drone flights.