FAA Operations over People proposals “risk stalling US drone industry growth” – CDA

The US Commercial Drone Alliance (“CDA”) has serious reservations about the Federal Aviation Administration’s Notice of Proposed Rulemaking regarding the operation of small unmanned aircraft systems (“UAS”) over people (“the NPRM”).

In an April 16 statement the CDA says:

“The CDA submits these comments to highlight our significant concerns with the proposed regulations, which – if left unaddressed – will prevent the commercial UAS industry from growing and providing the countless public benefits of expanded UAS operations.”

A summary overview of the comments is given below:

“Night Operations. The CDA agrees with the Federal Aviation Administration (“FAA”) that the U.S. government must balance innovation with safety and security in any rulemaking for expanded UAS operations. The CDA believes that the NPRM’s proposed regulation expanding night UAS operations strikes an appropriate balance in that regard and would be a welcome step forward for the commercial UAS industry. The CDA therefore urges the FAA to finalize proposed Section 107.29, “Operation at Night”.

“Operations Over People. Many of the most critical UAS use cases require flights in urban or suburban areas, i.e., where people are. The proposed regulations for operations over people (“OOP”) are far too restrictive and impose undue costs without any corresponding demonstrable safety or security benefit. If these proposed OOP regulations are finalized “as is”, there will be no meaningful or scalable expansion of commercial UAS operations, which would be limited to the smallest, lightest unmanned aircraft (“UA”) and narrowly-drawn operational areas. Most of the significant public benefits resulting from such operations would remain unrealized, and the expansion of the commercial UAS industry would be greatly curtailed. In sum, the CDA’s principal concerns with the NPRM are:

  • The prohibition on flights over people in moving vehicles must be eliminated because (i) it would significantly curtail the industry’s expansion in the United States, thereby preventing the implementation of many of the public benefit use cases without any demonstrable safety benefits, and (ii) it would constitute a de facto prohibition on UA flights over roads, which are ubiquitous in most of the areas where commercial UAS need to operate.
  • The NPRM’s risk analysis for operations over people is flawed because it fails to account for the likelihood or probability of a UA actually hitting a person or causing an injury.
  • The NPRM’s kinetic energy impact standards lack justification and are too low.
  • The singular focus of the NPRM’s pre-accepted means of compliance on kinetic energy disincentivizes advancements in UAS technology that would otherwise enhance safety.
  • The NPRM fails to properly weigh risks against benefits.
  • The NPRM does not broadly permit more expanded operations for sophisticated operators
  • The NPRM does not expand the definition of “direct participant”.

“In order to enable the commercial drone industry to blossom and bring the full breadth of significant benefits of UAS to the American public, the CDA respectfully requests that the FAA modify the proposed regulations as discussed herein. Failure to do so would effectively surrender the United States’ leadership position on UAS and airspace matters, as other countries forge ahead to embrace and enable expanded UAS operations and their safe integration into airspace. Moreover, such a failure would consign the commercial UAS industry in the United States to many years of an overly restrictive regulatory regime and very limited operational opportunities, while the American public misses out on the safety, efficiency, and countless other public benefits that commercial UAS operations can provide.”

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