DMA Letter to House of Representative Encouraging Passage of FAARA

May 4, 2016

The Honorable John Thune
Chairman
Senate Committee on Commerce, Science
and Transportation
512 Dirksen Senate Office Building
Washington, DC 20510

The Honorable Bill Shuster
Chairman
House Committee on Transportation and
Infrastructure
2251 Rayburn House Office Building
Washington, DC 20515

The Honorable Bill Nelson
Ranking Member
Senate Committee on Commerce, Science
and Transportation
254 Russell Senate Office Building
Washington, DC 20510

The Honorable Peter Defazio
Ranking Member
House Committee on Transportation and
Infrastructure
2251 Rayburn House Office Building
Washington, DC 20515

Dear Chairmen Thune and Shuster and Ranking Members Nelson and Defazio:

As members of the newly formed Drone Manufacturers Alliance, we applaud your efforts to pass legislation to reauthorize the Federal Aviation Administration. We support provisions in both the House and Senate bills related to unmanned aircraft systems, but believe final legislation must be crafted carefully to ensure that the U.S. can fully realize the economic and social benefits of a safe and vibrant UAS (unmanned aircraft system) industry. We would urge you to consider the following issues as you move toward final passage.

The Drone Manufacturers Alliance comprises the world’s leading drone manufacturers, 3DR, DJI, GoPro and Parrot. We aim to serve as the voice for drone manufacturers and our customers across civilian, governmental, recreational, commercial, nonprofit and public safety applications. Our top policies priorities are to promote innovation and safety, and to create a practical and responsible regulatory framework.

Micro UAS: A Framework that Fits

The FAA Modernization and Reform Act of 2012 set forth a framework for risk-based regulation of a micro UAS classification specifically for public safety agencies, weighing 4.4 pounds or less and operated within line of sight, less than 400 feet above the ground, and more than 5 miles from airports. We strongly support the House provision, included by Congressman Rodney Davis during markup, that expands the classification to all operations, including commercial, educational, humanitarian and civic uses. The provision creates clear operational procedures for micro UAS under 4.4 pounds, as well as exemption of such operations from airmen and airworthiness certifications.

While we also support the Senate-passed provision added by Senator Booker during markup that directs the FAA to promulgate a “micro” rule, we believe the clear exemption established in the House bill for a micro classification better prioritizes safety while promoting open innovation. By creating clear rules and eliminating the distinction between recreational and commercial use for the smallest and safest classification of UAS, it cuts red tape for entrepreneurs and encourages a safety culture based on rules that all users can easily understand. It also relieves the FAA from the burden of licensing and other managerial and logistical considerations for low risk operations, allowing the agency to focus its resources on more challenging UAS integration efforts.

Safety Standards: Create Consensus Not a Bottleneck

We are extremely concerned about the framework established in Section 2124 of the Senate bill for certification of small UAS. We believe the section would create a significant barrier to innovation, thereby ultimately slowing advancements in aviation safety and locking in old technology. We would urge the House and Senate to strike the provision or significantly modify it before passing the legislation into law. Specifically, we have three primary concerns:

  • Reversing the FAA’s risk-based approach: Section 2124 would reverse the Federal Aviation Administration’s risk-based approach to regulating UAS. The FAA in its proposed rule for small UAS entitled “Operation and Certification of Small Unmanned Aircraft Systems”, determined that small UAS do not “require airworthiness certification because the safety concerns associated with small UAS operation would be mitigated by the other provisions of [the] proposed rule.” Second-guessing the FAA’s determination concerning safety standards disregards its considerable technical expertise in this area.
  • More costs, no benefits: Both the FAA and Congress have demonstrated a recognition that certain types of small UAS have low-risk profiles, specifically in the case of micro and model aircraft. The current language does not recognize that standards could and should be developed based on risk rather than adopting a one-size-fits all approach.
  • Static system, dynamic industry: Section 2124 would create a static system for approving each and every make and model of UAS in the United States. That would significantly slow innovation and prohibitively impede entry for new and innovative companies. UAS, like most technology, has a short and constantly evolving development cycle. Forcing manufacturers to lock in specific standards before going to market and then restricting the ability to update those products over time will limit innovation in aviation safety rather than improve it.

Preemption: Preserving the Role of the FAA and Congress

We strongly support section 2152 of the Senate bill that appropriately preserves the FAA’s authority to regulate the national airspace for unmanned aircraft systems. The FAA has sole jurisdiction over the national airspace and aviation safety.

Over the last two years, more than 45 states and hundreds of local jurisdictions have attempted to regulate UAS. We have counted more than 270 state bills concerning UAS just since January 1 — many of which are contradictory with each other or with federal regulations. This potential patchwork of state and local laws will create an unworkable — and less safe — system for manufacturers, as well as our customers, law enforcement, the general public and manned aircraft.

As manufacturers, we work hard to educate our users about the regulatory environment. A patchwork of state and local laws will make it impossible to provide the most up-to-date information to every operator in the US, especially when certain laws may conflict with others in the same geographic region. Further, federal and local enforcement of aviation regulations will create inconsistency and invite chaos in the application of regulation.

Model Aircraft: Innovation by Hobbyists

We support existing statutory language under the 2012 FAA Modernization & Reform Act that provides important protections to model aircraft developers. We are concerned the Senate-passed bill does not include similar language, which could subject recreational users to FAA manufacturing, operational, maintenance, and certification regulations that were never intended to apply to model aircraft. We fear omission of this language would jeopardize the ability of individuals and companies to create, test and demonstrate hobbyist equipment, as well as create new regulatory burdens on manufacturers who have developed safe products for recreational users for decades. We would urge the House and Senate to preserve the 2012 Act and reiterate that activities in connection with the development of a model aircraft are not subject to aviation regulations.

Thank you for your time and attention to these concerns. We are hopeful we can work with you and your colleagues to pass an FAA reauthorization bill this year that ensures the continued safe integration of UAS into the national airspace.