March 14, 2022

DroneReportDroneInsights400x275The Unmanned Aircraft Systems Beyond Visual Line of Sight (BVLOS) Aviation Rulemaking Committee (ARC) within the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) recently published its final report, with a set of five recommendations for rulemaking changes to allow for the expansion of unmanned aircraft systems and BVLOS operations.

The 381-page report, which can be downloaded here, discusses how unmanned aircraft can provide public benefits and essential services to the American public, including delivering critical supplies, medicines, and commercial products. In addition, unmanned aircraft systems can help inspect critical infrastructure, support first responders, and enhance access to essential goods and services.

“... current Federal Aviation Administration regulations do not enable the domestic UA beyond visual line-of-sight (BVLOS) industry to scale and achieve meaningful results from those benefits,” the report states. “The current rules also do not reflect the competencies needed to safely operate highly automated UAS, which hinders the ability to expand UAS BVLOS operations to achieve the maximum societal and economic benefits for the American public.”

The report highlights five key recommendations from the ARC, including:

  1. 1. The ARC recommends that the FAA set an acceptable level of risk (ALR) for UAS that is consistent across all types of operations being performed. The ARC said it envisions that this approach will let the FAA adopt a common and consistent set of regulations and guidance, giving operators flexibility to meet the ALR through qualitative or quantitative methods, or a hybrid approach.
  2. The ARC recommends modifications to the right of way rules in Low Altitude Shielded Areas (within 100 feet of a structure or critical infrastructure), and in Low Altitude Non-Shielded Areas (below 400 feet) to accommodate UA operations. THis includes allowing automatic means for see-and-avoid responsibility, giving UA right of way in shielded areas, giving UA right of way over crew aircraft that are not equipped with ADS-B or TABS in Non-Shielded Low Altitude Areas; and giving crewed aircraft that are equipped with ADS-B or TABS (and broadcasting their position) right of way in non-shielded low-altitude areas.
  3. Extending Part 107, Remote Pilot Certificate with Small UAS Rating, to cover topics associated with extended Visual Line of Sight (EVLOS) and shielded UAS operations, This includes creating a new Remote Pilot certificate rating to cover BVLOS operations beyond the scope of the extended Part 107 rating. The examination for both ratings would include a knowledge test, with practical training and qualifications tied to new Remote Air Carrier and Remote Operating certificates, which would be required for most commercial one-to-many operations.
  4. That the FAA establish a new BVLOS rule, which includes a process for qualification of UA and UAS, applicable to aircraft up to 800,000 ft-lb of kinetic energy.
  5. That the FAA adopt a non-mandatory regulatory scheme for third-party services to be used in support of UAS BVLOS operations. The ARC said it identified issues relevant to UAS BVLOS operations beyond the scope of the ARC, but which are identified as considerations for future committees to address. In addition, the ARC identified issues beyond the FAA’s scope of authority, with recommendations made in the interest “of providing a full framework of actions and policies to promote safe and widespread adoption of UAS BVLOS activities.

In the Chair’s Comments of the report, the ARC admitted that the recommendations are progressive, and that criticisms can be, and have been, lodged against rulemaking initiatives. But because these aircraft are operated at very low altitudes and in volumes of airspace that do not have significant numbers of general aviation operations, the committee felt that “these are reasonable and logical recommendations that advance the UAS industry and ensure that the United States remains a global leader in the UAS arena.”

“In this light, the question we should be asking ourselves today is not, ‘is this the right time for BVLOS,’ but rather ‘is time, technology and public benefit passing us by because we have not facilitated safe and secure BVLOS operations?’ “

DroneUp, which is developing autonomous drone delivery platforms, shared a statement of support of the ARC’s final report.

“While many in the industry have lamented the lack of regulatory options as a barrier to success, DroneUp has charged forward delivering results within the current regulatory constraints,” said John Vernon, CTO of DroneUp and one of the ARC committee members. “Still, we are immensely grateful to have had the opportunity to help shape the future of UAS for BVLOS operations. Unlocking BVLOS will have a tremendous impact on the world, opening up opportunities only dreamed about in science fiction. This report’s feedback and common-sense proposals represent the best from the technology, aviation, municipal, and societal leaders and provide a solid list of recommendations to rule-makers. We are excited to see how these recommendations will shape regulations that will propel this industry forward by providing a clear pathway to BVLOS.”

In addition to the report, the ARC included statements from each of the voting members, who were allowed to provide additional comments that may have dissented from the recommendations or added statements that go beyond the recommendations.

For example, the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) submitted a letter of dissent to the report, citing significant concerns over privacy practices, the transparency of operators’ practices, and lack of discussion around community engagement and control.

“Insofar as the ARC considered negative community responses to drones, the solution that was endorsed was communicating with and educating the public,” the EFF wrote. “But that was envisioned as a one-way street; there was a studious refusal to consider whether and how communities should have control over the drones that fly above them.”

In addition, the EFF said the report did not address the negative use of drones, beyond government security agency concerns over security threats. “... the omission of a full, balancing discussion of the technology’s potential downsides (other than security threats) does not reflect our agnostic views on the extent to which drones are likely to provide benefits to the American people,” the EFF said. “We cannot join what is, essentially, a brief arguing mainly for the advantages of drones without addressing substantial issues they create for the public.”

A full list of the Voting Ballots along with letters of dissent can be downloaded here.