A new Memorandum issued by the Federal Aviation Administration’s Office of Chief Counsel appears to place in jeopardy dozens of existing and planned research projects at state universities that make use of unmanned aircraft systems technology.
The June 13, 2014 Memorandum concerning “UAS Operations by Public Universities for Aeronautical Research” (the “Memorandum”) is intended to provide “clarification of allowable operations of Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS) by state universities as operators of public aircraft.” Sent by the Assistant Chief Counsel for International Law, Legislation, and Regulation to James Williams, Manager of the FAA’s Unmanned Aircraft Systems Integration Office, the Memorandum concludes that the FAA may only issue Certificates of Waiver or Authorization (COAs) to state universities for the narrow purpose of conducting “aeronautical research” into the development of unmanned aircraft systems, and not for other research purposes such as agriculture or environmental studies.
This conclusion could be construed as cutting off one of the only current avenues for FAA-approved uses of
UAS in the United States in advance of the agency’s rulemaking, which is not anticipated to culminate in a
final rule for small UAS before the end of 2015.
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