The U.S. House of Representatives Aviation Committee held a Counter UAS Issues Roundtable Discussion yesterday – and the issue of regulation for recreational operators was a central theme.
The argument over Section 336 – the part of the law that exempts model aircraft from new FAA rulemaking, otherwise known as the “Special Rule for Model Aircraft” (see the FAA’s interpretation and explanation here ) – is ramping up. As lawmakers discuss drone security – and, specifically, S.2836, the “Preventing Emerging Threats Act,” recreational operators are in the cross fire.
Deputy Associate Administrator for FAA’s Security and Hazardous Materials Office Angela Stubblefield – the FAA representative who spoke at the last FAA Symposium about “the careless, the clueless, and the criminal,” drone operators – blamed Section 336 clearly for security issues. Stubblefield testified that FAA supports S. 2836, which would grant Department of Justice (DoJ) and the U.S. Department of Homeland Security broad authority to shoot down, disrupt, track, or otherwise disable drones deemed threatening, despite any other federal law to the contrary.
Section 336 a “Fundamental Barrier” to Security
However, she said that the FAA was hindered in making progress on drone security without clear laws requiring universal registration and remote ID and tracking: laws that would apply to all drone operators.
“…it is important to highlight three related policies that will greatly reduce the instances of hazardous UAS operations,” said Stubblefield. “…Universal requirements for UAS registration, remote identification, and compliance with basic airspace rules are necessary conditions for safe and secure UAS integration.”
“The current exemption for model aircraft section 336 of the FAA modernization and Reform Act of 2012 is the fundamental barrier to effective implementation of these policy changes, and presents an insurmountable challenge to the FAA and our national defense, homeland security and law enforcement partners as we work to enable the benefits of UAS technology while maintaining safety and security for the American people.”
No “Third Category”
While the Sanford proposal passed in the House version of the 2018 FAA Reauthorization Act would attempt to compromise on Section 336, creating a potential third category of operators that fly in low altitude airspace, Rep. Peter DiFazio came out strongly against that idea in the Roundtable discussion. DiFazio supports a repeal of Section 336 that would put all drone operators under FAA authority.
“[The] confusion that we currently have will continue, because again, we’re dealing with individuals coming into the airspace who by and large are not Pilots; they’re not airspace users,” said DiFazio. “…that confusion will continue as long as we are unable to definitively and very clearly from the FAA say that all UAS have to meet certain requirements: registration, remote identification, and a basic set of safety rules … we would need to ensure that they operate their aircraft such that they’re not potentially causing a safety or security constraint that will wreak havoc in the system.”
Miriam McNabb is the Editor-in-Chief of DRONELIFE and CEO of JobForDrones, a professional drone services marketplace, and a fascinated observer of the emerging drone industry and the regulatory environment for drones. Miriam has a degree from the University of Chicago and over 20 years of experience in high tech sales and marketing for new technologies.