Unmanned at Any Speed: Bringing Drones into Our National Airspace

In February of this year, President Obama signed the Federal Aviation Administration Modernization and Reform Act of 2012 (“FMRA”). The new law’s plain-sounding title doesn’t tell you, but FMRA encompasses a bold and controversial project: allowing, by a date certain, much broader domestic operation of Unmanned Aircraft Systems (“UAS”)— or, as they are more commonly described, “drones.”

Congress instructed the Federal Aviation Administration (“FAA”) to devise rules that, by late 2015, would allow widespread UAS use— both by private individuals and entities, and by federal, state and local governments. Between now and then the agency must meet a slate of statutory benchmarks. To name but one of many, a rule authorizing the private use of “small” UAS (those weighing less than fifty-five pounds) must be issued by August of 2013.

In this paper, “Unmanned at any Speed: Bringing Drones into our National Airspace,” Wells Bennett assesses the current state of domestic drone integration. Among other things, Bennett overviews:

  • FMRA’s most important deadlines, and the FAA’s progress in meeting them;
  • The legal and historical backdrop to FMRA, including the FAA’s longstanding, case-by-case approach to approving domestic drone flights;
  • Some of the most pressing air safety, security, cybersecurity, and privacy policy questions that must be addressed, policy questions that must be addressed, in order to allow for widespread domestic UAS operation under FMRA.

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