Are Small UAS Regulations Closer Than They Appear?

If you think it's a coincidence that the FAA's recent willingness to speed up and streamline UAS regulations is related to congressional interest in the subject, it's not.
By Patrick C. Miller | March 31, 2016

Sometimes it’s good to get an outside perspective to see if events are related and not coincidental. For example, the recent spate of announcements from the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) about changes to UAS regulations aimed at speeding up integration and commercialization appeared to line up neatly with the U.S. Congress’ interest in passing an FAA reauthorization bill containing UAS provisions.

When I asked Florida UAS attorney Jonathan Rupprecht if he thought it was just happenstance that the FAA’s habit of speeding up UAS regulation seemed to neatly coincide with Congressional interest in the subject, he laughed.

“They know how to play the game,” he told me. “They do a little dance when they’re under pressure. As soon as the cat comes back, the mice stop playing. ‘We’re doing stuff!’ That’s what’s going on there.”

I asked the same question to Ben Miller (no relation), sales engineer for Draganfly Innovations Inc. who’s also a member of AUVSI’s board of directors. He sits on the organization’s advocacy and strategic planning subcommittees. Miller spent 15 years with the Mesa County (Colorado) Sheriff’s Office where he created and led the UAS program.

Currently, the word is that that the FAA plans to release Part 107 of its regulations for small UAS in June. However, Miller said the information from within his network is that the regulations could be out as early as April or early spring.

“I think there’s things occurring that kind of lead to an early spring release,” he said.

Miller couldn’t share specific details, but he said the industry has moved to include UAS language in the FAA reauthorization bill.

“The FAA gets its budget from reauthorization, and that’s obviously significant for them,” Miller explained. “You’re exactly right when you say that you see activity any time when reauthorization is being heard on the floor or considered in committee on Capitol Hill.

“Any good manager is going to say ‘Hey, this is a great time to do press releases on us being proactive and productive,’” he added. “That’s a good thing. It’s just the politics of the Hill.”

Miller then proceeded to tell me how frustrating it can be for a UAS manufacturer to deal with the FAA. Draganfly’s Section 333 exemption doesn’t list its new commander UAS.

“As soon as we released Commander, we also put in an amendment request to the FAA to add the word ‘Commander’ in five or six different places,” he said. “That was officially on the docket Jan. 21 and we still haven’t heard back from them.”

Miller tried contacting the FAA to let them know the company wasn’t asking for new permission to do something different. It just wanted the new Commander system listed on its exemption.

“The response I got was that it’s the same 120 days for you as it is for everybody else,” he related.

Miller was also told that the FAA has 6,000 Section 333 requests backlogged.  

“They are upside down and backwards trying to get this stuff out,” he said. “Getting Part 107 out for them could be hugely beneficial internally for the FAA. It won’t satisfy all 6,000 requests pending, but I’ll bet it will satisfy quite a few of them.”

And so it seems—not coincidentally—that the FAA has a number of good reasons to expedite the release of its small UAS regulations.