FAA Modernization and Reform Act of 2012

AuthorTimothy M. Ravich
C 5
FAA Modernization and
Reform Act of 2012
On February 14, 2012, Congress enacted legislation designed to promote safety
and commerce for unmanned aircraft system (UAS) operations. e federal
law, entitled the “FAA Modernization and Reform Act of 2012” (FMRA)1 is a 300-page
law, of which only 6 pages and seven provisions related directly to UAS. It is organized
as follows:2
Subtitle B—Unmanned Aircraft Systems
§ 331 Definitions
§ 332 Integration of Civil Unmanned Aircraft Systems into the National Airspace
§ 333 Special Rules for Certain Unmanned Aircraft Systems
§ 334 Public Unmanned Aircraft Systems
§ 335 Safety Studies
§ 336 Special Rule for Model Aircraft
Pursuant to Section 332 of the FMRA , Congress directed the Federal Aviation Admin-
istration (FAA) to produce comprehensive UAS regulations to “safely accelerate the inte-
gration of civil unmanned aircraft systems into the national airspace system [NAS].”3
Section 333 of the law (see Chapter 6 infra) may be the most significant part of the
law to affect—though perhaps not “accelerate”—this mandate, as it directed the FAA
to (1) determine whether UAS operations posing the least amount of public risk and no
1 FAA Moderniz ation and Reform Act of 2012, Con ference Report, 112th Cong., Report 112-381, www.gpo.g ov/fdsys/
2 E.g., Wells C. Bennet t, Unmanned at Any Spee d: Bringing Drones i nto Our National Airs pace, B (2012).
3 See, e.g., Pub. L. 112-95 (2012), § 332(a)(1).
threat to national security could safely be operated in the NAS, and if so, (2) to establish
requirements for the safe operation of these systems i nto the NAS. Within this incremental
and case-by-case framework, the FAA has issued so-called 333 exemptions to qualifying
commercial drone operators—a process detailed in Chapter 6 infra.
Additionally, the FMRA requi red the FAA to implement a plan to integrate UAVs into
the NAS “not later than” September 30, 20154—a de adline t hat was not met. e FM RA
also directed t he FAA to prepare recommendations and projections on the ru lemaking that
would define the acceptable standard s for operation and certification of civil UAVs , ensure
that any civil UAV has sense and avoid capability, and establish standards and require-
ments necessary to achieve the safe and routine operation of civil UASs in the NAS.5 e
FMRA allowed for a phased-in approach for civil UAS integration, but also established
target dates or range s (August 2014) for the publication of a final rule governing operations
for UASs. A final rule was enacted in August 2016 (see Chapter 9 infra).
In September 2013, selected federal authorities jointly released the comprehensive
plan (“Plan”) called for in the FMRA.6 e Plan set out several strategic goals for the
phased-in integration of unmanned aeria l vehicle into the NAS, giving priority to public
(e.g., governmental, noncommercial) UAVs while laying the framework for eventual civil
UAV integration by 2015.7 e Pl an ant icipat ed tha t sUAV with visua l lin e-of-si ght wou ld
operate in the NAS without special authorization by 2015, with routine UAV operations
by 2020.8 In addition to the goals of studying acceptable levels of automation for UAV in
the NAS and harmonizing UAV operations under international UAV protocols, the Plan
also addressed important “non-safety-related issues” such as privacy and national security
(including cyber and communications security).9 To that end, the Plan initiated a program
for the establishment of UAV test ranges to “help inform future rulemaking activities and
other policy decisions related to safety, privacy, and economic growth.”10
Six test sites around the nation now serve as test bed s for the FAA to fur ther its goals of
researching sy stems safety and data gathering , aircraft certification, comma nd and control
link issues, control station layout and certi fications, ground and airborne sense and avoid,
and environmental impacts.11 e Plan also projected the release of a Notice of Proposed
Rulemaking for UASs in early 2014 and an integration roadmap layin g out a rolling 5-year
plan for implementing UAS operations into the NAS.12
4 Id. at § 332(a)(3).
5 Id. at § 332(a)(2).
6 See J P    D  O, U  A  S (UAS) C  P :
A R    N’ UAS P F (Sept. 2 013). See www.faa.gov/about/office_org/headquarters_offices/
7 Id.
8 Id. at 9, 16.
9 Id.
10 Id. at 7, 15, § 2.4.
11 See Section II infra .
12 See J P   D  O , supra note 6 at 17.

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