Friday, July 21, 2017

HR 2997 Introduced – FY 2018 FAA Reauthorization

Last month Rep. Schuster (R,PA) introduced HR 2997, the 21st Century Aviation Innovation, Reform, and Reauthorization (21st Century AIRR) Act. This is the House version of the 2018 FAA authorization bill. The Senate version is S 1405. There is one cybersecurity provision in the bill and a number of drone provisions.


Section 601 of the bill addresses the FAA’s strategic cybersecurity plan. It would require an update of the existing plan required under §2111 of PL 114-190 (130 Stat 626). It would specifically require that plan to be modified to include the establishment of the American Air Navigation Services Corporation, the vehicle for the privatization of air traffic control. The obligatory report to Congress is included.

UAS Provisions

Section 432 of the bill modifies codifies a number of current UAS provisions of US law by adding a new chapter (Chapter 455) to 49 USC. One of particular interest here is the Model Aircraft exception established in §336 of the FAA Modernization and Reform Act of 2012 (PL 1125-95, 126 Stat 77). That would be addressed in a new §45509, Operation of small unmanned aircraft. While in many ways similar to the new §44808 proposed in the Senate bill, there are some significant differences. Those difference include:

• Failure to include limitations to line-of-sight operations;
• Adds a 55-lb aircraft weight limit {§45509(a)(3)}; and
• Adds restriction on flying over amusement parks {§45509(a)(5)}.

Both bills include an obligatory reference to ‘within the programming of a community-based organization’. This bill actually provides a definition of ‘community-based organization’ and a requirement for the FAA to establish guidelines for “recognizing community-based organizations” {§45509(e)}.

Moving Forward

On June 27th the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee held a mark-up hearing for HR 2997. A number of amendments were made (none of particular interest here) and the bill was ordered reported favorably by a nearly party-line vote (one Republican voted Nay). That report has not yet been published.

This bill will move forward to be considered by the full House at some point. Based upon the vote in Committee, this bill is not likely to be considered under the suspension of the rules process since that requires a 2/3 vote to pass the bill. This means that there will be some sort of amendment process adopted by the House Rules Committee.

Once the House and Senate pass both of their versions of the bill, a conference committee will work out the differences and a combined version will be voted upon in both houses. If recent history is any kind of guideline, the final bill will be approved in late November or early December.


Both the House and Senate bills move to more narrowly cast the ‘model aircraft’ exemption to small UAS operation. It is becoming increasingly clearer that there never was any intention to exempt the general public from FAA UAS rules, only the relatively small group of individuals that belong to model aircraft clubs and societies. This would appear to open up a whole nest of problems for the FAA in moving forward with UAS regulations as the universe of potentially covered entities for the FAA regulations expands dramatically.

One way to avoid this general public regulation issue would be for manufacturers of small UAS destined for the consumer market to establish company sponsored UAS clubs with membership instructions included in every consumer UAS sold in the United States. Formal club rules with on-line meetings, training sessions and organized fly-ins would probably allow for recognition by the FAA. Especially since the Agency has no desire to get into consumer regulation enforcement.

I do have to admit that I was more than a little surprised and disappointed to see this bill add the amusement park restriction to the model aircraft section of the bill while continuing to ignore the potentially much more dangerous issue of the operation of UAS over critical infrastructure facilities such as chemical plants or electric grid infrastructure facilities. Critical infrastructure owners need to begin complaining vociferously about this issue.

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