Chamber of Commerce letter gives FAA a time out on tardy drone restrictions near critical sites

GAO FAA drone integration

The US Chamber of Commerce is leading a coalition of diverse organizations urging the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) to move quickly to implement rules designed to protect critical infrastructure facilities from drone threats. As such, the initiative represents an emphatic and very public call by influential business groups for the FAA to get the lead out.

Late federal rulemaking produces tangle of state laws

That rather impatient throat-clearing came in the form of a letter the Chamber of Commerce and 10 other business and trade groups sent the FAA, demanding it “implement Section 2209 of the FAA Extension, Safety, and Security Act of 2016 (FESSA).” That article – contained in laws passed in 2018 and 2019 – requires the FAA to establish and oversee a process through which operators and owners of facilities considered sensitive and potentially at risk can apply for federally issued restrictions against drones operating in their airspace. 

“In the FAA Reauthorization Act of 2018,” the text reads, “Congress directed the FAA to implement Section 2209 through a notice of proposed rulemaking (NPRM) by March 31, 2019 and issue a final rule within 12 months of publication of the proposed rule.”

The letter states the FAA has not done that – and signatories make it clear they are neither pleased about it nor its vexing consequences.

“In the absence of the required (federal) rulemaking, many states have enacted legislation to protect critical infrastructure sites, resulting in a patchwork of state laws that is confusing for critical infrastructure stakeholders and the UAS industry,” the letter reads. “To address the current situation, the undersigned industry stakeholders request that the FAA, in conjunction with the Department of Homeland Security and other relevant agencies, expeditiously move forward with the rulemaking requirement contained in the FAA Reauthorization Act of 2018.”

International Association of Amusement Parks wants FAA drone action, right now!

The text cites the FAA’s own figures that “more than 875,000 commercial and recreational unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) are registered in the United States.” That diverse US fleet, the letter argues, will doubtless grow as all kinds of businesses adopt or increase evolving enterprise drone applications. Such proliferation, it continues, will expand already existing risks from UAS to gas pipelines, chemical plants, transportation infrastructure, nuclear facilities, and other sites, which “include espionage, safety hazards to ground operations, and other criminal and illicit activities.”

Signatories – which range from the Alliance for Drone Innovation to the American Fuel & Petrochemical Manufacturers, Consumer Technology Association, and International Association of Amusement Parks and Attractions – call on the FAA to consult the rulemaking framework they’re proposing to help speed Section 2209’s implementation. That includes working with private sector actors to define, identify, and prioritize sensitive installations requiring drone restrictions, as well as educating UAS operators on those.

“This will further the safe and secure integration of UAS into the national airspace,” the letter ends. “We would be pleased to discuss the rulemaking and proposed framework further with your staff and answer any questions.”

Left unstated, but rather palpable, was the warning, “and next time we won’t be so polite.”

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