Senate Passes FAA Reauthorization Bill, Including provisions related to UAS

On April 19, 2016, the United States Senate passed its version of the FAA Reauthorization Bill.  Although the Senate Bill did not address the more controversial aspects of the U.S. House’s version, namely the privatization of air traffic control services, the Senate Bill does address many aspects of UAS operations in the NAS.  The Senate Bill now is awaiting consideration in the House.  Among other things, the Senate Bill: (i) continues the work of the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) to develop privacy best practices, and requires the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), in conjunction with the FAA, to develop standards for the remote identification of UAS: (ii) gives enforcement authority to the Federal Trade Commission to ensure that private companies adhere to their own privacy policies related to UAS operations; (iii) requires the FAA to develop a safety exam for the operation of UAS as well as standards in conjunction with the NIST for safe UAS operations; (iv) requires the FAA to revisit whether special rules for model aircraft, which typically are exempted from most FAA rules, are needed to ensure safe operations; (v) requires DOT to develop a regulation requiring economic authority, in the form of a registration statement, for UAS operators carrying property for compensation or hire; and (vi) requires the FAA to develop an underlying small UAS certification program further to the foregoing DOT registration statement requirement applicable to the carriage by UAS of property.  By including provisions in the Bill addressing the carriage by UAS of property for compensation or hire, the Senate has indicated its support for a future commercial application that, thus far, has been limited in scope.  Indeed, DOT’s statutory economic licensing requirements obligate any person engaging in the air transportation of property to either obtain a DOT certificate of public convenience and necessity or conduct its operations under a DOT exemption from the certificate requirement, such as air taxi, i.e., on demand, carriers operating small aircraft when such operations do not involve scheduled service above a certain threshold.