Frustration in the commercial industry, and an inability to get testing done at the FAA UAS test sites, has created a situation in which legislators take on the role of experts. Early this morning, Senator Ron Wyden of Oregon (D) and Lisa Murowski of Alaska (R) introduced the Safe Skies for Unmanned Aircraft Act of 2015, which offers only two directions to the FAA Administrator. Now, if you’re like me and want to read the primary document yourself, please do so by clicking HERE.
However, I can give you a synopsis and the reason why its a bad bill that will have negative repercussions. Essentially, the bill requires two things. The first, is that it says the FAA must use the below definition to determine if a UAS is being used for commercial purpose:
49 U.S. Code § 40125 – Qualifications for public aircraft status
(1) Commercial purposes.— The term “commercial purposes” means the transportation of persons or property for compensation or hire, but does not include the operation of an aircraft by the armed forces for reimbursement when that reimbursement is required by any Federal statute, regulation, or directive, in effect on November 1, 1999, or by one government on behalf of another government under a cost reimbursement agreement if the government on whose behalf the operation is conducted certifies to the Administrator of the Federal Aviation Administration that the operation is necessary to respond to a significant and imminent threat to life or property (including natural resources) and that no service by a private operator is reasonably available to meet the threat.
The application of this definition makes as much sense as using this definition for commercial space flight without a crew. Clearly, differing technologies and transportation modalities require different definitions. UAS be definition do not require people for hire at this stage, however, unlike manned operation, the technology is not designed to protect those on board. Manned aviation developed with the belief that if the crew on board an aircraft is safe, then anyone on the ground will be safe. Designers were forced to develop protections for crew which also mitigated risks to the public; such is not the case for unmanned aviation, and therefore the definition of carry person or property for hire is not applicable.
This is clearly an attempt to bridge the murky legal implications using video data for compensation. Should someone on youtube be fined for posting a video and having ads run on the bottom of the screen? Probably not. However, to demand that UAS be commercial only if carrying personnel or cargo is ludicrous. Intent of operation should matter, though difficult to enforce.
The second, is that it requires the Administrator to create Beyond-Line-of-Sight procedures for “Safe Flight” within 90 days of the bill being passed.
Frankly, this is legislation is trash. Congressional leadership must understand that this technological field has the potential for sustainable and meteoric growth if protected and developed within a safe context. By mandating that the FAA adhere to a 3 month time-period in order to develop Standard Operating Procedures, quality and control standards, communications and data assurance standards, stakeholder education directives, and an ability to enforce these protocols is outlandish. To demand that a concerted effort by RTCA and ASTM, that has been on-going for a decade, be done-away with in 3 months is irresponsible.
Text of the Bill can be found below: