Latest FAA Reauthorization Marks a Major Victory for Drone Fliers

In a long-awaited development, the US House of Representatives on May 15 voted to approve a bill that will reauthorize the Federal Aviation Administration, giving drone industry stakeholders much to cheer about.  The new bipartisan bill, which passed the House by a margin of 387-26 after earlier securing overwhelming approval from the US Senate, comes after nearly two years of backroom negotiating over key issues such as expanded authority for Beyond Visual Line of Sight flights and reduced restrictions on high altitude flying by drone operators, especially in uncontrolled airspaces away from airports, public buildings and population centers.

Michael Robbins, president and CEO of the Association for Uncrewed Vehicle Systems International (AUVSI), which began lobbying congressional leaders in the summer of 2022, said he was extremely satisfied with the language contained in the final bill, as it reflected most of the group’s priorities and hoped-for outcomes

“Almost two years ago we began soliciting input from our members on our top FAA reauthorization priorities and I’m delighted that a lot of our top priorities are in the bill and are going to help to move the industry forward in a very meaningful way,” Robbins told Drone Life in an interview last week.

Robbins said that one of the most important aspects of the new legislation was Section 930, which establishes a formal timetable for the FAA to put forward a comprehensive BVLOS rule, which was supposed to occur as far back as the Obama administration but has been delayed due bureaucratic disputes and in-fighting in the FAA and within the aircraft industry as a whole.

“I think that’s important because it really puts some boundaries on the FAA in terms of getting this rule done and we know the FAA wants to get the rule done,” Robbins said. “However, the rule making process, as we all know, can be slow and sometimes get caught up. So, having this sort of balance put in place by Congress is very helpful.”

The reauthorization bill creates two additional FAA test sites for drone companies to begin using unmanned aircraft for package delivery or other operations.  A handful of companies, including Wing, Zipline and Drone-Up, currently have FAA waivers to expand deliveries on behalf of companies like Walmart in select locales.  The test sites would make it possible for more companies to qualify more quickly to obtain similar waivers in other locations, without necessarily obtaining waivers on a case-by-case and site-by-site basis.

The bill also extends the BEYOND program, which was set up to develop broader rules for engaging communities in developing standards and policies to facilitate the safe deployment and operation of drones, a key concern as cargo deliveries begin expanding nationwide.  The program is also designed to inform broader policies in other drone niches including law enforcement and emergency response and disaster relief.

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