Transcript from FAA Press Briefing on Newly Announced sUAS rules

These notes were transcribed during the FAA press briefing by Christopher Schmidt. A recording of this FAA Press Briefing from which this transcript was made is available at

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Sasha: This call is being recorded. We will work to put together a transcript to put out early in the week. At this point, I would like to introduce Anthony Foxx.


Thank you Sasha for your patience this morning and for joining this call. Two weeks ago the US DOT produced a report highlighting the rapid technological advances taking place. Technology is not just changing the automobile it is changing aviation. The US wants to capture the potential of unmanned aircraft and we have been working to develop a framework to allow the safe integration. In recent years, we have begun a set of actions designed a series of actions to keep America at the forefront of aviation. We have a number of test sites; We have developed an exemption program; today we take another step forward with our small UAS rule.

From Entertainment to Energy to Agriculture, there are a host of industries interested in using UAS to improve their business. But for us at US DOT, the first threshold must be to keep people safe as we move to integrate UAS into our sky.

Rule addresses two basic safety issues: One Keeping unmanned aircraft well clear of other aircraft. Two, mitigating any risks to people and property on the ground. As a result we’re proposing some common sense safety measures to keep everyone safe. They’re things like not allowing flight of these aircraft near airports or more than 500 feet above the ground, or if you’re operating one, they have to be within your los at all times and you have to be able to see them within your own two eyes, not with binoculars and the aircraft must weight less than 55 pounds, and you can't operate it at night.

This does not apply to recreational users; there are already rules in place for that.

Safety issues aren't the only issues associated with unmanned vehicles. These vehicles raise privacy issues as well, which is why the president has released a memo on privacy which will guide how the Federal Government uses aircraft in our airspace.

We’re going to be transparent about use of this technology, we’re going to use it in a way that follows the law and doesn’t infringe on civil liberties.

I wanna thank the FAA especially for their hard work on this, and I’ll turn it over right now to Administrator Michael Huerta, who will give us more details on the proposed rule.


Today’s proposed rule is the next step in our continuing efforts to integrate unmanned aircraft systems into our nation’s airspace. As you heard from the secretary we’ve made a lot of progress. Last year we published a comprehensive plan and roadmap to safely integrate unmanned aircraft, and we also opened 6 test sites across the country for research into unmanned aircraft. We approved the first ever commercial operations in the arctic and we have granted more than 2 dozen exemptions for commercial use of unmanned aircraft in domestic airspace.

Today’s proposed rule is a big step forward in outlining the framework that will govern the use of small unmanned aircraft weighing less than 55 pounds.

This proposed rule offers a very flexible framework that provides for the safe use of small unmanned aircraft while also accommodating future innovation in the industry.

As you heard from the secretary: this technology offers many potential benefits to society.

Due to the size of a small unmanned aircraft, we envision that these aircraft could be used for a wide variety of activities, particularly those that might be considered dangerous

Under this proposed rule, these aircraft could inspect utility towers, antennas, bridges, power lines and pipelines in hilly or mountainous terrain. Academic institutions could use them for educational purposes or to pursue research and development. Small unmanned aircraft could also support wildlife conservation, or be used to monitor crops. They can help with Search and Rescue, and they can be used to shoot scenes in film and television. And of course there is a lot of interest in using them to take aerial photographs, for real estate purposes. In many cases, unmanned aircraft can do these tasks with less risk than a manned aircraft that might have to fly in dangerous terrain or bad weather. And in some cases, an unmanned aircraft could conduct inspections more safely than a worker who might need to, for example, climb a tower.

As a reminder, what we are releasing today is a proposed rule, it is not a final rule. Today’s action does not authorize widespread commercial use of unmanned aircraft. That can only happen when the rule is final. In the meantime, operators must still go through the current process for a waiver or exemption to fly. Also this proposed rule does not affect those who want to fly model aircraft as a hobby, or for recreation. They already can. You simply need to fly according to our model aircraft guidelines.

The FAA’s unmanned aircraft website has a lot of good information on how to fly your remote aircraft safely. As the secretary said, safety is our #1 priority. This proposed rule makes sure that we protect other aircraft as well as people and property on the ground.

The proposed rule accommodates aircraft up to 55 pounds operating at speeds up to 100 mph, and up to 500 feet in altitude. This keeps these small unmanned aircraft away from manned aircraft that usually fly at higher altitudes.

Also, unmanned flights would be restricted near airports and in certain airspace unless ATC gives permission. This is to provide a buffer between manned and unmanned aircraft.

This proposal would allow operation during daylight hours, and require the operator to be able  to see the unmanned aircraft at all times.

Rather than requiring a PPL, we propose operators obtain a newly created FAA unmanned aircraft operator certificate by passing a knowledge test focusing on the rules of the air. The operator must renew their certificate every 2 years by passing a written proficiency test. Before each flight, operators would perform a preflight inspection, just as pilots do today.

These small unmanned vehicles pose the least amount of risk to our airspace, and therefore, the rule would would allow these aircraft to operate without the need for an airworthiness certificate; Such a certificate could take a manufacturer 3-5 years to obtain; with the pace of innovation in the market, an unmanned aircraft could very well be outdated by the time it obtains a certificate, therefore no airworthiness certificate is needed. However, these aircraft must operate under a clear set of parameters to maintain safety as I mentioned.

The proposed rule also invites comment on a number of provisions; so that we can determine the appropriate standards. Particularly, we ask the question of whether there should be a category and special rules for micro unmanned aircraft. Those that weigh 4.4 pounds or 2kg or less. We’re asking the public to comment on whether such a category, and different rules governing them should be included in the Final Rule.

The proposed rule will be on the FAA’s website and goes into greater detail in all of these provisions.

The Unmanned aircraft industry is expanding greatly, and this technology has the ability to dramatically change the ways we use our nation’s airspace. We’ve been working tirelessly to address all the special characteristics of unmanned flight, so we can safely expand the use of those innovative aircraft in the use of routine operations across the country. Today’s proposed rule is a milestone in that effort. We’re doing everything that we can to safely integrate these aircraft, while ensuring that America remains the leader in aviation safety and technology.

Thank you for joining us today, I’d like to pass it back to Secretary Foxx.

Foxx: Thank you very much Michael. Sasha, I think you’re going to help folks figure out how to ask their question.

Sasha: For any reporters, please email your questions to or to and we’ll do our best to answer them.

First question from Joan Lowe from AP: how long before you think the rules can be made final? GAO estimated 2-3 years because of the requirements of the rulemaking process and expected large number of comments.

Foxx: I’ll start and Michael jump in. We believe this is an important step and we also value the input of the public in what we’re putting forward today. Want to hear from as many stakeholders as possible, and that will have something to do with how long it will take us to move forward. Let me say that we’re committed to the overall framework of safely integrating UAS into our airspace and this is a very step towards that goal.

Huerta: Yes, we are expecting a lot of comments. But we have provided a comprehensive framework within the NPRM which I think will enable us to focus our analysis of each of these comments and to integrate unmanned aircraft safely and to move as expeditiously as possible.

Matt McFarland, WP: Can you tell us more about the FAA approved knowledge testing center, what be an example of one, where might one take this test, and where does one obtain a UA operating certificate?

Michael: The rule lays out both of these as proposals; our objective would be that the knowledge testing center would be very widely available, and there are many organizations that would provide testing services. lOoking for here is to ensure that those who want to obtain the certificate have access to it as broadly as possible. In terms of the content of that, the basic thing that we’re trying to establish here is that this is fundamentally different than being a private pilot. A number of requirements that might pertain to being a private pilot simply don’t apply when you’re flying an unmanned aircraft. But what does is apply your ability to operate within airspace with other aircraft. THe test is really focused in that area.

Q: Jack Nicas WSJ: A couple questions. To clarify under the rules, once an operator has a certificate he or she can fly any UAS under 55 pounds commercially as long as it’s during daytime under 500 feet within LoS, is that correct. Once they have a blanket approval to fly commercially, is that allowable so long as they follow certain rules?

Huerta: Yes, as long as you’re operating within the framework and you have the appropriate operator certificate, yes, that would be correct, subject to the basic rules associated with safety and airspace called out within the rule.

Q: Air and Space News: If a UAS operator already possesses a PPL, will they still need a UAS operators permit?

Huerta: Yes, you can think of it as sort of an endorsement to your driver’s license, but it is a  much streamlined process, and again its principal focus is on the rules of the air. But again, what we’re seeking is comment on this proposed approach, and looking forward to how the public views that.

Part 2 of that question: Will any medical exam required as with a PPL?

Huerta: There will not be a separate requirement for a medical exam.

Q: Aaron Cooper, CNN: Even when all commercial use has been banned, we still see a number of close calls between UAS and aircraft; will we see more close calls now that more UAS will be allowed to fly? How will the FAA ensure that UAS comply with rules and ensure that they avoid airports and manned aircraft?

Foxx: Part of putting this rule out is taking another step towards establishing a framework for the safest possible integration of UAS into airspace. As we go through the comment period, and work with those who give us their feedback, we will either learn that we have done this exactly right, or we will find some ways that we can tweak it, to make it the strongest possible rule in terms of avoiding those issues and ensuring that we have the enforcement mechanisms that enable us to protect other users in the airspace.

Huerta: 2 dimensions, and the secretary touched on them. The first is education, making sure everyone understands what the rules are, and the rule sets out that framework, done a fair amount of that and will continue to do that; an indication of that is our know before you fly campaign that we’ve done in conjunction with industry that we started at the end of last year. We also have enforcement tools that are available; what we want to do is ensure that anyone who is flying in a careless or reckless manner that would be endanger the public or other users of the airspace, that we take appropriate enforcement action against those activities.

Q: Dan Roberts, Guardian. Can you talk more about for the requirement for LoS visibility; does this rule out use of drones for deliveries as Amazon has been suggesting; What do you make of their threat to take their technology abroad if they don’t get the regulatory reform they’ve been demanding?

Huerta: First and foremost that this represents another step in a process that has a lot of components. What we are very focused on right now is this very large class of potential users, the rule does contemplate LoS activities, but do permit the use of visual observers. Separately, we have ongoing: two activities that are continuing to push the frontier beyond that. One is a pretty aggressive research program to push beyond VLOS; and the second is the exemption process which the secretary referenced where we can consider specific uses that people want to put forward as the framework continues to evolve. This is not the final word on the full scope of UAS operations. This is an extremely important step. But there will be continue to be other activities that will address this industry as we continue to evolve. Mr. Secretary?

Foxx: I just want to underscore that the technology is changing very rapidly, and this is why we have a very comprehensive framework that we’re working through, of which today’s announcement is one feature. We’re not done yet, and we’re going to  continue working to ensure that we’re moving as quickly as possible but also as safely as possible to ensure that we integrate these new technologies into the airspace.

Q: WSJ: Any flexibility on the LoS requirement in terms of What happens when see and avoid continues to be further developed? Do you forsee that LoS requirement being changed by the time this rule is made final if See and Avoid technology is proven by then?

Foxx: One of the good things about a comment period is that it gives us a chance to get feedback and also if the studies that Michael just referenced continue, we’ll see. We are putting forward what we believe to be the safest possible approach at the moment. But of course we look forward to hearing back from the public.

Huerta: I would just add that we also need to look at this in context of what does this suggest with respect to the certification of the aircraft. But as the Secretary said, what we’re Looking for is for people to comment as we’ve framed this as we’ve framed these requirements going forward, and if there’s data or analysis they’d like to present as part of the comment period, we encourage them to do that.

Q: Congressional Quarterly Roll Call: What penalties will be applied to unlicensed operators? How does the FAA ensure operators are not flying beyond LoS for example to survey very large farms and ranches? How will the FAA even know if someone in the middle of Nebraska is not obeying Line of Sight rules?

Huerta: As I said before, we’re Focused in two areas. One is to educate people on what the rules are, and the second is to ensure they are not operating in a careless or reckless manner, and ensuring that we’re taking appropriate enforcement action as needed. What we’re laying out here is a flexible regulatory framework that can provide a clear roadmap for everyone of how this very large class of unmanned aircraft can can operate in the national airspace system. The rule as it becomes finalized will provide probably the most flexible regime for unmanned aircraft that exists anywhere in the world. So what we want to accommodate are the sorts of things that folks are looking for ultimately, but we need to do that in a staged way that supports the highest levels of safety because that’s what people expect of the airspace and the aviation system.

Sasha: Mr. Secretary, any wrap up comments?

Foxx: Want to thank everyone for joining us today. It’s an exciting day for aviation and for unmanned aircraft in the US. As I said before, our work is not done. We know that, and we’re going to keep pushing forward. I want to say again how much I appreciate the great work of our FAA team on getting us through the day.

Huerta: Thank you Mr. Secretary, thank you everyone for joining us, and we’ll look forward to receiving comments on the proposed rule.