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Small UAS comment countdown begins: FAA publishes notice of proposed rulemaking

Sean McGowan Tyler Black February 25, 2015

On February 23, the Federal Aviation Administration’s notice of proposed rulemaking (NPRM) for small unmanned aircraft systems (sUAS) operation was published in the Federal Register. The proposed rule, titled "Operation and Certification of Small Unmanned Aircraft Systems," applies to UAS weighing less than 55 pounds. Now that the NPRM has been officially published, members of the public have until April 24, 2015, to submit their comments to the FAA for consideration.

Generally speaking, an agency must respond to all relevant, significant, and timely comments after it releases an NPRM. Although the sUAS NPRM seems to be less onerous than many had anticipated, there are plenty of ways the proposed rules might still change before they are finalized. For example, the FAA specifically invited comments on several topics, including, but not limited to: how to mitigate risk of operating sUAS during low-light or nighttime operations; what technologies could permit beyond line-of-sight sUAS flights; whether flight termination systems should be required and integrated into sUAS; operation of sUAS from moving land vehicles; and whether separate, relaxed requirements should exist for microUAS (drones weighing less than 4.4 pounds).

Members of the public have 60 days to weigh in on these issues and any others raised by the NPRM. The FAA finds that the most helpful comments “reference a specific portion of the proposal, explain the reason for any recommended change, and include supporting data.” Comments can be submitted through any of the following methods, using docket number FAA-2015-0150:

  • Federal eRulemaking Portal: Go to http://www.regulations.gov and follow the online instructions for sending your comments electronically.
  • Mail: Send comments to Docket Operations, M-30; U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT), 1200 New Jersey Avenue, SE., Room W12-140, West Building Ground Floor, Washington, DC 20590-0001.
  • Hand Delivery or Courier: Take comments to Docket Operations in Room W12-140 of the West Building Ground Floor at 1200 New Jersey Avenue, SE., Washington, DC, between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m., Monday through Friday, except Federal holidays.
  • Fax: Fax comments to Docket Operations at 202-493-2251.

Until the rules are finalized, the FAA’s existing Section 333 exemption process remains the best way to fly a drone commercially. Businesses eager to take off using the NPRM’s streamlined sUAS operator certificate process must wait until the FAA completes its administrative review, which, by most accounts, could take more than a year. The months-long Section 333 exemption application process may be tedious, but it is still better than the alternative: potential FAA enforcement action against the unauthorized commercial drone user.