As the number of drones in the United States climbs steadily, a group of drone industry advocates has petitioned the FAA to comply with Section 2209 of the FAA Extension, Safety, and Security Act of 2016 (the Act). The FAA has also recently launched the TRUST test for recreational drone pilots. FAA was given a deadline to release an NPRM (Notice of Proposed Rulemaking) on Section 2209 by 31st March 2019. However, that deadline has not been met.
What is Section 2209?
Section 2209 is a law that directs the FAA to create restricted airspace over critical fixed infrastructures. This is to define the boundaries of these structures which drones cannot breach. The FAA is required to work with local and state governments to define infrastructures that are off-limits to drones. These facilities can range from oil refineries, power plants, to stadiums, and amusement parks. Here’s what Section 2209 of the H.R.636 – FAA Extension, Safety, and Security Act of 2016 states:
(Sec. 2209) DOT shall establish procedures for applicants to petition the FAA to prohibit or restrict the operation of drones in close proximity to a fixed site facility (an affirmative designation).
A “fixed-site facility” is considered to be:
- critical infrastructure, such as energy production, transmission, and distribution facilities and equipment;
- oil refineries and chemical facilities;
- amusement parks; and
- other locations that warrant such restrictions.
The FAA shall publish designations on a public website.
Despite the deadline of publishing an NPRM by 31st March 2019, no NPRM has been issued by the FAA. This has led many drone industry advocates to push the FAA to establish certain airspace boundaries at the earliest. But, the question remains, why?
Why must the FAA Comply with Section 2209?
While it may seem counter-effective for the drone industry to have airspace restrictions implemented, it is an important process. The advocates have stated that in the absence of airspace regulations over critical infrastructures, the local and state legislatures have implemented their own airspace restrictions. These locally implemented restrictions are vague and much broader than the proposed infrastructure facility.
“…many of the proposed state and local UAS airspace restrictions are much broader than what Congress set forth in Section 2209,” says the group’s letter to the FAA. “Section 2209 limits UAS operating restrictions to the airspace above critical infrastructure and similar areas with unique, highly sensitive safety and security concerns. In contrast, many state laws and bills establish UAS no- fly zones over more mundane areas such as airspace above parks, animal feeding stations, state government buildings, mental health facilities, and television stations.”
The absence of federally regulated airspace can hinder large-scale commercial drone operations. Presently, several drone delivery operations are being pursued across the United States. Adding on to that, the number of Part 107 pilots has also risen. Thus, arbitrary airspace restrictions can be confusing and hamper the development of the commercial drone industry.
More importantly, the FAA is the sole authority for regulating airspace across the United States. Therefore, by complying and implementing Section 2209, the FAA must redefine its authority over local airspace restrictions. You can read the official letter written to the FAA by the drone industry advocates on the AUVSI page.