Commercial UAS flight to be permitted in the USA by no later than September 2015

FAA Reauthorization and Reform Act of 2011

Start logging flight hours and failures and hope to be one of the chosen few allowed to start dipping their toes in the water. That seems to be the cut of a Bill just leaving Capitol Hill.

The FAA Reauthorization and Reform Act of 2011 (HR 658) was introduced Feb. 11 by Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Chairman John L. Mica, Petri and other Members.

“The last reauthorization was in 2003, and that expired in 2007. Since then, we have had a series of 17 extensions. That’s no way to run a vital federal agency,” said Petri. “The House passed reauthorization bills in the past two congresses, but didn’t reach agreement with the Senate. Getting this bill enacted into law will provide needed certainty and consistent funding for more efficient and effective investment.”

“We are in a difficult budget environment and can’t do everything we want to right now, but we need to get on with the things we can and must do,” he said.

This might be a boost for educational establishments across America that are setting themselves up as systems and pilot trainers. Law Enforcement agencies are likely to be amongst the first permitted to fly in the NAS.

It could also be the beginning of the end for home made personal drones, although so many are now out in wild. Many employing OpenSource autopilots such as the Ardupilot or OpenPilot. It would seem impossible for regulation to keep up.

OpenSource autopilots have certainly helped to expand the field whilst not facing restrictive anti missile ITAR restrictions that hamper American autopilot manufacturers with red tape.The restrictions worked in the 70s when the hardware was difficult to get hold of. Now even fairly standard smart phones such as the Google Nexus S phone contain enough technology to fly a drone.

If they are hard to keep a tab on, perhaps they will just be banned.

The FAA’s reluctance to accept UAS flight has also held back American UAS operators. Many are chomping at the bit to start flying legally. Countries like Australia and the UK  have had laws permitting sUAS flight in place for several years allowing them to gather the operating data that the FAA seems to want. Chicken and egg.

Some observations made by Patrick…

Subtitle B Unmanned Aircraft Systems SEC.321. Definitions

Really, most of what is in the House version is nothing new or ground breaking. Much of the language is straight off of the military contractor wish list.  As I have been saying, it appears that the first responders will be first out of the gate. I really have concerns about a potential backlash even beyond just the privacy issues. Secondly, the language is vague and I believe it hopeful on the part of the community that this will suffice as a clear direction for action. As far as Federal regulatory agencies go, the FAA seems to get a wide berth when it comes to ignoring directives. In summation, the following two items are where I have trepidations: (2) Minimum Requirements (ii) I find disconcerting as it is missing the key phrase “Beyond Visual Line of Sight.” Left to possible uninitiated interpretation means that it could be damaging to the cause. Furthermore, I don’t know if “ensuring” is/was a good choice of a word for a solution that has no accepted standard, or even loose definition. Not encouraged with (3) Deadline. 2015??? And it leaves me personally wondering, why so far off into the future?

On the bright side, it does help fix some of the moving targets and also is fuel for the Unmanned media coverage fire. One thing I will say is that after reading all of the recent press releases, it looks as though we as a community need to do a better job educating our elected representatives.

From the FAA Reauthorization and Reform Act of 2011 published on February 11th

In this subtitle, the following definitions apply:


The term ‘‘certificate of waiver’’ or ‘‘certificate of authorization’’ means a Federal Aviation Administration grant of approval for a specific flight operation.

(2) SENSE AND AVOID CAPABILITY.—The term ‘‘sense and avoid capability’’ means the capability of an unmanned aircraft to remain a safe distance from and to avoid collisions with other airborne aircraft.

The term ‘‘public unmanned aircraft system’’ means an unmanned aircraft system that meets the qualifications and conditions required for operation of a public aircraft, as defined by section 40102 of title 49, United States Code.

(4) SMALL UNMANNED AIRCRAFT.—The term ‘‘small unmanned aircraft’’ means an unmanned aircraft weighing less than 55 pounds.

(5) TEST RANGE.—The term ‘‘test range’’ means a defined geographic area where research and development are conducted.

(6) UNMANNED AIRCRAFT.—The term ‘‘unmanned aircraft’’ means an aircraft that is operated without the possibility of direct human intervention from within or on the aircraft.

(7) UNMANNED AIRCRAFT SYSTEM.—The term ‘‘unmanned aircraft system’’ means an unmanned aircraft and associated elements (including communication links and the components that control the unmanned aircraft) that are required for the pilot in command to operate safely and efficiently in the national airspace system.



(1) COMPREHENSIVE PLAN.—Not later than  270 days after the date of enactment of this Act, the  Secretary of Transportation, in consultation with representatives of the aviation industry and the unmanned aircraft systems industry, shall develop a comprehensive plan to safely integrate commercial unmanned aircraft systems into the national airspace system.

(2) MINIMUM REQUIREMENTS.—In developing the plan under paragraph (1), the Secretary shall, at a minimum—

(A) review technologies and research that will assist in facilitating the safe integration of
commercial unmanned aircraft systems into the national airspace system

(B) provide recommendations or projections for the rulemaking to be conducted under subsection (b)

(i) to define the acceptable standards for operations and certification of commercial unmanned aircraft systems

(ii) to ensure that commercial unmanned aircraft systems include a sense and avoid capability, if necessary for safety purposes; and

(iii) to develop standards and requirements for the operator and pilot of a commercial unmanned aircraft system, including standards and requirements for registration and licensing

(C) recommend how best to enhance the technologies and subsystems necessary to provide for the safe and routine operations of commercial unmanned aircraft systems in the national airspace system; and recommend how a phased-in approach for the integration of commercial unmanned aircraft systems into the national airspace system can best be achieved and a timeline upon
which such a phase-in shall occur.

(3) DEADLINE.—The plan to be developed under paragraph (1) shall provide for the safe integration of commercial unmanned aircraft systems into the national airspace system not later than September 30, 2015.

(4) REPORT TO CONGRESS.—The Secretary shall submit to Congress

(A) not later than one year after the date of enactment of this Act, a copy of the plan developed under paragraph (1); and

(B) annually thereafter, a report on the activities of the Secretary under this section.
(b) RULEMAKING.—Not later than 18 months after the date on which the integration plan is submitted to Congress under subsection (a)(4), the Administrator of the Federal Aviation Administration shall publish in the Federal Register a notice of proposed rulemaking to implement the recommendations of the integration plan.


(a) IN GENERAL.—Not later than 180 days after the date of enactment of this Act, the Secretary shall determine if certain unmanned aircraft systems may operate safely in the national airspace system. The Secretary may make such determination before completion of the plan and rulemaking required by section 322 of this Act or the guidance required by section 324 of this Act.

In making the determination under subsection (a), the Secretary shall determine, at a minimum—

(1) which types of unmanned aircraft systems,if any, as a result of their size, weight, speed, operational capability, proximity to airports and population areas, and operation within visual line-of-sight do not create a hazard to users of the national airspace system or the public or pose a threat to national security; and

(2) whether a certificate of waiver, certificate of authorization, or airworthiness certification under section 44704 of title 49, United States Code, is required for the operation of unmanned aircraft systems identified under paragraph (1).

(c) REQUIREMENTS FOR SAFE OPERATION.—If the Secretary determines under this section that certain unmanned aircraft systems may operate safely in the national airspace system, the Secretary shall establish requirements for the safe operation of such aircraft systems in the national airspace system.


(a) GUIDANCE.—Not later than 270 days after the date of enactment of this Act, the Secretary shall issue guidance regarding the operation of public unmanned aircraft systems to

(1) expedite the issuance of a certificate of authorization process;

(2) provide for a collaborative process with public agencies to allow for an incremental expansion of access to the national airspace system as technology matures. the necessary safety analysis and data become available, and until standards are completed and technology issues are resolved; and
(3) facilitate the capability of public agencies to develop and use test ranges, subject to operating restrictions required by the Federal Aviation Administration, to test and operate unmanned aircraft systems.

(b) STANDARDS FOR OPERATION AND CERTIFICATION.—Not later than December 31, 2015, the Secretary shall develop and implement operational and certification standards for operation of public unmanned aircraft systems.

Gary Mortimer

Founder and Editor of sUAS News | Gary Mortimer has been a commercial balloon pilot for 25 years and also flies full-size helicopters. Prior to that, he made tea and coffee in air traffic control towers across the UK as a member of the Royal Air Force.