The Newest on the FAA Reauthorization Act of 2018

By Jennifer Ferrero, APR

Tom Hagen, past president of AUVSI’s Cascade Chapter and owner of the consultancy, Enterprise Initiatives, recently gave a presentation revealing detail around the FAA Reauthorization Act of 2018. Like many changes to law, this one deserves a deeper dive to better understand how it will impact unmanned systems in Washington. This information is critical to anyone flying drones, unmanned and autonomous systems or vehicles (UAS/UAV) in Washington.

Here are the details and what to expect per UAS expert Tom Hagen:

  • Section 336 repealed – Safety concerns, the proliferation of drones (nearly 1.5 million or 6 times the total manned aircraft fleet in the U.S.), security and privacy concerns, plus the varying skill levels and aeronautical knowledge of operators have prompted this repeal. Since the Reauthorization Act cannot be implemented immediately, the FAA cautions recreational operators to follow all current policies and guidance until regulations have been vetted and implemented. From their website, this includes:
    -Fly for hobby or recreation only
    -Register your model aircraft
    -Fly within visual line-of-sight
    -Follow community-based safety guidelines and fly within the programming of a nationwide community-based organization
    -Fly a drone under 55 lbs. unless certified by a community-based organization
    -Never fly near other aircraft
    -Never fly near emergency response efforts
  • Unmanned Aircraft Test Ranges – The FAA administrator has been asked to develop a program for the integration of drones using UAS (drone) test ranges. Most of these programs are being implemented through the Department of Transportation, UAS Integration Pilot Program (IPP) which last year designated 10 programs supported by hundreds of other state, local and industry participants. The specific applications being explored under the IPP are night flights, beyond line-of-sight operations, operations over people, operations of multiple small UAS and unmanned systems traffic management. In Washington state, work is ongoing to develop a test range near Sunnyside to provide a location for the development and testing of unmanned systems. (Of note, Oregon has 3 UAS test ranges, all part of a consortium with Alaska and Hawaii led by the University of Alaska, Fairbanks.)
  • Manufacturer’s Self-certification – The FAA’s ultimate product is safety in the National Airspace System. When UAS manufacturers in the state of Washington want to certify their new product, they need to comply with the emerging airworthiness certification process for UAS coordinated through the FAA’s Los Angeles Airworthiness Certification Office. Going forward, this section of the bill directs the FAA to establish a process to accept risk-based, consensus safety standards for small UAS and authorize the operation of small UAS designed, produced, or modified in accordance with these standards in lieu of the more cumbersome certification process used for the approval of other aircraft.
  • Aeronautical Knowledge and Safety Test – Recreational drone pilots will be required to pass an aeronautical knowledge test and register their drone before flying.
  • Pilot Program for Safe Integration of Drones in the National Airspace Systems (NAS) – This provision requires the development of a reporting system that requires federal, state, and local authorities to report any incident in any community. That would include police, sheriff, or any other entity. The reason for this is to gather data on safety, operating practices, determine where changes are needed for safety, etc… “This is not completely new, but it is a part of the law. This has been ad hoc, except for commercial operations, but many commercial and government entities are self-reporting within some provisional standards, but this is more to ensure data is collected on events that constitute an incident. This will become more specified as the FAA implements their mandate in this area,” said Hagen.
  • Privacy – Under the act, authorities will now be able to monitor the sky and issue reports on illegal drone use that will be tracked through a universal database that is annually reviewed by Congress. This is a formalization of some of the structure that has been used in the past and is applicable to manned aircraft as well.
  • Operators, Compensation and Part 107 Pilots – Commercial drone operators are now required to have a privacy policy in their business to denote what data they are collecting, how they intend to use it, and how they will delete the data, etc… Additionally, operators and pilots must delineate how they will transfer the data in return for compensation. For example, if you are collecting data flying over crops and the data is relevant to agronomists looking at water resource management and fertilization, you need to note how it will be used, who will see it, and what the data is that is being sold for compensation.
  • Universal Remote Identification System – This system tracks drone registrations, privacy reporting, and utilization of drones in the national airspace. “It has been worked on for at least 2-3 years. This is really an accountability trail designed as one more element in providing for the safety of all air vehicles in the National Airspace System as well as those on the ground who may be harmed by undisciplined operations or privacy violations,” said Hagen.
  • Counter UAS Technology – Within this act the FAA will test UAS mitigation techniques at major airports to safely remove illegal drone use next to critical infrastructure, important buildings, waterways, etc. This provides for rules to expand and fund counter drone technology to protect the public and its infrastructure. FAA will be testing sUAS mitigation techniques at five different airports, including one large airport with some of the top passenger boarding data to safely remove any illegal drone use before it becomes a problem. Under this act, the DOJ and DHS can take/shoot down any drones flown within the vicinity of one of their facilities.

In summary, the FAA reauthorization act of 2018 has changed the landscape for UAV/UAS pilots in Washington state through reporting, tightening up licensing, setting up tracking, and through understanding and mitigating issues around illegal activity that could impact the public sector. Although passed by Congress, much work remains to fully define the intended provisions of this legislation and that is expected to take a significant amount of time and effort by the FAA and drone stakeholders.

About Tom Hagen 
Tom Hagen is the president of Enterprise Initiatives, Inc., a company he founded in September 2003 to provide consulting, management and education services to the aerospace community and government agencies. Hagen previously worked for The Boeing Company’s Phantom Works division for 13 years where he led several unmanned systems capture initiatives and an international working group focused on the integration of unmanned systems in to national airspace systems. He is also the immediate past president and a current Board Member of the AUVSI Cascade Chapter which represents nearly 400 corporate and individual unmanned systems and robotics stakeholders from industry, government and academia in Oregon and Washington.

A retired Navy carrier aviator, Hagen holds a bachelor’s degree in Business Administration as well as an MBA, both from Oregon State University. He is currently an Adjunct Professor for the U.S. Naval War College and a member of several boards and professional associations, including the Tailhook Association, the Association for Naval Aviation, the Washington Unmanned Systems Industry Council and Oregon Aviation Industries (ORAVI).