United States: It’s A Bird! It’s A Plane! It’s A Drone!

The ability of people to operate small UAS over people has taken a big step forward. The FAA has been saying that it wanted to release its draft of the so-called microUAS rules before the end of the year. However, before that can be done, the Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) must go through a review process at the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs (OIRA), which is part of the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) at the White House. That crucial first step was taken earlier this week.According to OIRA’s website, the new rule, entitled “Operations of Small Unmanned Aircraft Over People,” will address:the performance-based standards and means-of-compliance for operation of small unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) over people not directly participating in the operation or not under a covered structure or inside a stationary vehicle that can provide reasonable protection from a falling small unmanned aircraft. This rule would provide relief from certain operational restrictions implemented in the Operation and Certification of Small Unmanned Aircraft Systems final rule.This provides a golden opportunity for stakeholders to influence the process before the regulation is publicly released. As part of the review, members of the public can request a meeting with OIRA pursuant to Executive Order 12866 to discuss the proposed rule, what it should contain, and how the rule will impact interested parties including UAS manufacturers, operators, and users. As part of Executive Order 12866, OIRA is required to conduct a cost/benefit analysis and determine whether the benefits of the rule justify the costs. The review process can take up to 90 days, and can be extended for an additional 30 days. There is no minimum time for the review. According to OIRA, the average review period is 53 days. If OIRA’s analysis is favorable, the NPRM would then move forward. It is possible, however, that at the end of the review period, the rule may be “returned” to the FAA, which would then have to take additional time to revise or redraft the proposed regulation. It is OIRA’s policy to meet with any interested party, including state or local governments, small businesses or other business interests, or from the environmental, health, or safety communities to discuss proposed regulations. The meetings are conducted under the OIRA Administrator or his designees, and a log is publicly available of all meetings.Now is the time for UAS manufacturers, operators, and users to get involved in the federal government’s process and be heard. If you have a strong interest in operations over people, this is your last chance to impact the regulatory landscape before the rule is published and open for comment.