The FAA Reauthorization Package, known as the Securing Growth and Robust Leadership in American Aviation Act (H.R. 3935), has been passed by the U.S. House of Representatives Transportation and Infrastructure Committee with a unanimous vote of 63 - 0. The Act emphasizes the need for the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) to establish timelines for crucial aspects of drone regulation, including Beyond Visual Line of Sight (BVLOS) rulemaking, Unmanned Traffic Management (UTM), and drone integration.
This legislation allocates funding to the FAA for the next five years, ensuring continued operations as the current authorization expires in September 2023. The comprehensive package covers all areas within the FAA's jurisdiction. Notably, Title VI - Aerospace Innovation, Sections 601 - 687, focuses on Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS) and Advanced Air Mobility (AAM).
One significant provision of the Act addresses BVLOS operations. Although the BVLOS Aviation Rulemaking Committee provided recommendations in March 2022, no Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) has been issued yet. The Act mandates that the FAA moves forward with the rulemaking process according to a specific timeline:
(a) IN GENERAL.—Within four months of the Act's enactment, the Administrator of the FAA must issue a notice of proposed rulemaking that establishes airworthiness and operational regulations for unmanned aircraft systems intended for BVLOS operations primarily at or below 400 feet above ground level.
….(f) INTERIM APPROVALS.—Until the Administrator issues the final rule, the process outlined in section 44807 of title 49, United States Code, shall be used to authorize BVLOS unmanned aircraft system operations.
(g) FINAL RULE.—Not later than 16 months after the Act's enactment, the Administrator shall issue a final rule that establishes the required regulations for BVLOS operations.
While this indicates the possibility of an NPRM on BVLOS being issued in early 2024, it is contingent on reaching an agreement between the House and Senate and ensuring the timely passage of a comprehensive package. The previous Reauthorization package, passed in 2018, followed several years of interim extensions.
The drone industry has expressed its support for this legislation. The Association for Uncrewed Vehicle Systems International (AUVSI) Chief Advocacy Officer, Michael Robbins, released a statement endorsing the bill, stating:
“The world is entering an exciting new era of aviation, but for the benefits of advanced aviation, drones and Advanced Air Mobility (AAM) to be realized, U.S. companies need more support and regulatory clarity. This legislation is a meaningful step forward in safely integrating drones and AAM into the airspace and increasing U.S. global competitiveness by supporting domestic workforce growth and technology innovation and manufacturing. AUVSI commends Chairman Sam Graves, Ranking Member Rick Larsen, Aviation Subcommittee Chair Garret Graves, and Subcommittee Ranking Member Steve Cohen for their bipartisan leadership. We call on the full House of Representatives to swiftly pass this bill to enhance safety for all users of the national airspace system."