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FAA’s Newly Proposed Drone Regulations Smartly Require Drones to Fly Below 500 Feet & Far Away From Airports & Other High-Risk Airspace – Key for Safety of Air Travelers In Particular

While FAA’s New Rules Are a Good First Step, FAA’s Proposal States That Drones Can’t Be Used Out of Sight of Operator, Neglects to Include Use of Much-Needed Geo-Fencing Technology That is a Built-In Limitation on Where Drone’s Fly; Privacy Protections Also Must be Developed ASAP


Schumer Urges FAA to Improve Rules In a Way That Will Promote Positive & Legitimate Commercial Drone Uses, While Ensuring Privacy & Safety; Schumer Has Long Advocated for FAA Rules That Would Safely Integrate Drones into National Airspace


Following the Federal Aviation Administration’s (FAA) release of the long-awaited proposed rule for drones, U.S. Senator Charles E. Schumer today urged the FAA and the Department of Commerce to address three remaining, and major, areas of concern in a final rule.  Specifically, Schumer is urging the FAA to reconsider its proposed ‘line of sight’ rule, which currently requires that all drones fly within the visual line of sight of the operator. Schumer also said that the FAA should require drone manufacturers to develop and install built-in software, firmware and GPS tracking in the device to better control where drones fly and enforce rules. Lastly, Schumer is urging the FAA to work with the Department of Commerce to develop stringent privacy guidelines for the use of drones.


The FAA is charged with developing general, binding rules for integrating drones into the national airspace. In light of a number of near-misses at New York City airports as well as numerous privacy concerns, Schumer has long been an advocate for clearer guidelines on drone use. Since the FAA Modernization and Reform Act was passed in 2012 and established “a special rule for model aircraft,” Schumer has urged the FAA to release its proposed rule, which would distinguish between hobby and commercial drones, and outline the legal and illegal uses of commercial drones. On February 15th, the FAA released its draft rule on drones. Schumer said that the proposed rule includes many positive changes that will help make our airspace safer, particularly for commercial air travelers and pilots. For instance, the draft rule requires drones to fly below 500 feet and significantly outside of airport and other secure airspace. Schumer has said that while this action is a solid first step, the proposed rules do not sufficiently strike a balance between safety and allowing the commercial potential of drones to take flight. Schumer today wrote to the FAA and Commerce Department outlining his concerns.


“The FAA’s proposed rule on drones makes our airspace significantly safer, however, more must be done to protect the privacy of individuals and help build the commercial potential for this transformative technology,” said Senator Schumer. “The FAA’s proposed rule is a good first step, and I appreciate the agency’s indications that the final rule can change, given that there are three key areas that must be improved. First, the FAA’s ‘line of sight’ rule appears to be a concerning limitation on commercial usage and this proposed rule should be modified. Second, the FAA should require drone manufacturers to use geo-fencing technology, which can be built into the drone to limit where it can fly. Lastly, the President has ordered the Commerce Department to work with the FAA to develop stringent privacy protections; this work must be completed ASAP. We all shudder to think that someone can send a drone peering into the window of our living room or our bedroom.”


Dear Administrator Huerta and Secretary Pritzker:


The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) deserves great praise for releasing the draft rule for commercial small unmanned aircraft systems (UAS). This is a new and difficult subject with many facets, and the FAA has taken a good first step and should also be commended for recognizing that these proposed rules may need further modifications.


Air travelers will be much safer when these new rules are finalized. The idea of limiting drones to flying below 500 feet and keeping them away from major airports alone will make travel much safer. It is very much needed, and given the recent close encounters between drones and commercial aircraft, these should be implemented as soon as possible. There are many other aspects of the proposed rule to be applauded. However, I believe the FAA should consider three major areas of improvement to the proposed rule.


1.)    Line of sight rule: The requirement that all UAS must fly within the visual line of sight of the operator or visual observer could significantly hinder the potential for UAS in many commercial usages. It is hard to see how such a rule would not limit the legitimate use of drones in many commercial applications, including agriculture, mining, construction and infrastructure monitoring, land surveying and mapping, and delivering necessities to rural communities. I urge the FAA to work with the stakeholders and experts in these industries and areas of UAS technology to strike a balance in the final rule that allows for both the commercial use of UAS and the protection of safety and privacy.


2.)    Geo-fencing: The technology of geo- fencing – using GPS, software and firmware built into UAS technology - would allow enforcement of FAA UAS rules in a simpler and more complete way. Self-enforcement of rules, such as not flying above 500 feet or near restricted airspace, seems to be the simplest and most effective way to ensure safety. This technology also takes human error out of the equation. Manufacturers are already experimenting with placing this type of technology in their UAS devices, and the FAA should carefully consider such built-in technology as a requirement of all UAS manufacturers.


3.)    Privacy: I commend the President for taking the first steps to ensure that privacy will be protected as UAS are integrated into the national airspace. I urge the Department of Commerce, with assistance from the FAA and other agencies, to quickly develop very stringent privacy guidelines for the use of UAS. Americans will not tolerate drones hovering by their living room or bedroom windows without their permission. These guidelines should include stringent measures to prevent the use of UAS to spy on unaware parties, as well as other strong privacy protections.


I appreciate your consideration of these requests. I look forward to working with you to ensure that commercial UAS—which have the potential to be a truly transformative, beneficial technology—are integrated into the national airspace in a way that promotes economic development and efficiency, as well as privacy and safety.




Charles E. Schumer

United States Senator