The FAA Reauthorization Act of 2018 that President Trump signed into law on Friday includes key provisions that are aimed at increasing safety and awareness within the recreational drone community, gives law enforcement virtual carte blanche to react immediately to any perceived drone threat, and lays the foundations for mandatory drone registration and identification and the development of the domestic drone package delivery industry.
It immediately repeals the Section 336 exemption for model aircraft (Public Law 112-95, Special Rule for Model Aircraft), which allowed recreational drone operators to fly without obtaining an operators certificate. Under the act, recreational operators will now need to take an online tutorial to be developed by the FAA within six months and continue to register their aircraft and adhere to the current restrictions on recreational operations—flights during daylight only, no higher than 400 agl, and not beyond visual line of sight, among others.
The law specifically prohibits the FAA from requiring recreational operators to hold an airman’s certificate, a valid medical, complete formal flight training, fly only in pre-designated areas or uncontrolled airspace, or require airworthiness certificates on UASs in this category. It also grants all law enforcement authorities wide latitude when determining when it is appropriate to seize, disable, or destroy a drone; encourages the development of counter UAS technologies and their nationwide deployment; outlaws weaponizing a drone and provides criminal penalties for same and any other unsafe operations including near airports or natural disasters including wildfires; and gives the FAA a pathway to its long-sought mandate to establish a drone remote detection and identification requirement. Specifically, the act requires the FAA to create a pilot program that uses available remote detection and identification technologies for safety oversight “including enforcement actions” against non-compliant operators.
It also directs the FAA, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), and others to report on whether UAS operations should be permitted to use previously recommended L-band and C-band frequencies for operations within or outside the UAS traffic management (UTM) system and requires the FAA to create and post to its website a public database of UAS registrations, waiver of authorizations, and location and description of public operations. Significantly, the act also directs the FAA, within one year, to develop a small UAS air carrier certificate, certification process, and classification—a precursor to the roll-out of regular drone package delivery service.