The FAA’s Long-Awaited NPRM and ANPRM Have Arrived

Despite the government shutdown, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has released two highly-anticipated rulemaking documents related to commercial unmanned aircraft system (UAS) operations.  Yesterday, the agency published a draft Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (draft NPRM) on the Operation of Small Unmanned Aircraft Systems over People and a draft advanced NPRM (draft ANPRM) on the Safe and Secure Operations of Small Unmanned Aircraft Systems.  The NPRM proposes rules that would expand the FAA’s Part 107 rules to enable commercial UAS operations (i) over people, with increasingly strict requirements depending on the danger posed by the aircraft; and (ii) at night, subject to pilot training and aircraft lighting requirements.  The ANPRM seeks input on a variety of issues aimed at “reducing risks to public safety and national security” associated with increased UAS operations in the national airspace. 

Despite this development, these documents are merely the first step in expanding the FAA’s rules. The agency will next collect and consider public comment on its proposals, a process which took roughly one year for Part 107. And for issues teed up the ANPRM, the FAA would need to issue an NPRM with another comment period before adopting final rules. In addition, the FAA made clear in the NPRM that an agency policy on the remote identification of UAS in flight (“Remote ID”) is a necessary precursor to adopting the proposed changes to its regulations. This is consistent with the history of this rulemaking proceeding: the FAA first endeavored to publish an NPRM on flights over people in January 2017, but the publication was delayed following concerns raised by security stakeholders about the need for Remote ID.

The NPRM says that “the FAA plans to finalize its policy concerning remote identification of small UAS—by way of rulemaking, standards development, or other activities that other federal agencies may propose—prior to finalizing the proposed changes in this rule that would permit operations of small UAS over people and operations at night.”  Which regulatory vehicle the FAA chooses will affect the timeline for new rules on flights over people and at night.

For a more detailed summary, please click here.  Comment deadlines for these proceedings will be announced when they are published in the Federal Register. 

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