Local Issues


The Kansas Department of Transportation (KDOT) announced last week that it received approval from the FAA to conduct test flights with unmanned aircraft systems (UAS, or drones) at Wichita’s Dwight D. Eisenhower National Airport (ICT). KDOT will incorporate UAS to assist with obstruction analysis, foreign object detection, wildlife hazard management, and airfield emergency response. The UAS operations are part of the FAA’s UAS Integration Pilot Program, which is intended to accelerate the integration of UAS technology. KDOT is one of ten state and local government entities across the country selected by the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) to participate in the program. Between 2019 and 2021, participants in the program will collect data on advanced types of UAS operations that now require special authorization, such as operations over people, nighttime operations, and package deliveries. This data will aid the DOT and FAA in developing new rules to support more complex…

In a Notice to Airmen (NOTAM) issued on February 15, 2019, the FAA added more defense-related locations and correctional facilities to the growing list of No-Drone Zones.  The additional No-Drone Zones were requested by the Department of Justice and the Department of Defense and become effective on February 26th.  A list of the new locations is available in FAA’s Press Release, available here, and all No-Drone Zones can be identified in FAA’s UAS Data Display System map online or in FAA’s B4UFLY mobile app. Drone security has become a priority at the FAA.  This month, the FAA released an Advanced Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (ANPRM) regarding the Safe and Secure Operations of Small Unmanned Aircraft Systems, seeking public comments on operational requirements and limitations in Part 107 to reduce unanticipated safety and security risks.  Specifically, the FAA is looking for input regarding stand-off distances; altitude, airspeed, and other performance limitations; unmanned…

On Tuesday, the FAA posted an update in anticipation of the arrival of Hurricane Florence in the Carolinas this week, available here.   Today, the FAA issued an informational press release to drone operators for Hurricane Florence, available here. In addition to storm-related information for commercial airline travelers and Air Traffic Control impacts, the FAA warns drone operators that interfering with emergency responses may result in fines exceeding $20,000 and civil penalties.  Although drone operators should heed FAA’s warning for safety and compliance reasons, drones can also be an important resource during disaster recovery. Opportunities for drones to help in the recovery of Hurricane Florence will include, among others: Search and rescue operations by local authorities; Insurance assessments for private property damage; and Infrastructure damage assessments. However, the proliferation of drones for recreational and commercial purposes has also posed a challenge to emergency response operations.  The presence of a drone can…

Yesterday, the Department of Transportation (“DOT”) published details of the new Unmanned Aircraft System (“UAS” or “drone”) Integration Pilot Program (“Program”) in the Federal Register. The White Office of Science and Technology Policy launched this Program to  encourage State, local, and tribal governments to collaborate with private industry on innovative UAS operations.  The Program is the most significant change in UAS regulation by the Trump Administration and could lead to unprecedented opportunities for companies to test drone applications that were previously restricted.  

But time is of the essence—communities and companies must move quickly to avail themselves of the new UAS opportunities. We encourage any interested parties to begin developing a plan and submit a Notice of Intent with the Federal Aviation Administration (“FAA”) in the coming weeks. Details of the Program are explained below and are available in the Federal Register Notice.

The White House unveiled a highly anticipated Drone Integration Pilot Program (“Program”) that will allow state and local government to test different models for low-altitude regulation of drones, also known as unmanned aircraft systems (“UAS”).  The Program represents a significant break from the Federal Aviation Administration’s (“FAA”) previous position to discourage state and local government involvement in most aspects of UAS operations and is designed to encourage private entities to undertake innovative UAS testing in the United States, such as drone package delivery.  It will create more opportunities for cutting-edge commercial UAS flights for communities and operators, but the FAA and commercial aviation will likely continue to resist expanded operations that pose safety risks, including flights near airports.

Earlier this month, a small commercial airplane collided with an unmanned aircraft system (“UAS” or drone) during its final descent into Jean Lesage International Airport in Quebec City, Canada.  After numerous near-misses, this was the first confirmed collision between a drone and a commercial aircraft in North America.  The incident has renewed UAS safety and enforcement concerns, but also highlights opportunities and tools necessary to further improve the system. 

As the California wildfires grow with devastating impacts on human life, property, and business, the potential unmanned aircraft system (UAS or drone) benefits and risks for firefighting (re)emerge.  UAS stakeholders, including firefighters, are realizing the potential life-saving and fire response applications of UAS.  Meanwhile, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) and local emergency services remain on high alert for UAS that pose a risk to emergency responses.

Today, a federal judge struck down a Newton, Massachusetts, ordinance regulating drone operations in the city, holding that the ordinance was preempted based on Federal Aviation Administration (“FAA”) regulations and federal statutes. Saying the ordinance “essentially constitutes a wholesale ban on drone use” and was an “interven[tion] in the FAA’s careful regulation of aircraft safety,” District Judge William G. Young reaffirmed the FAA’s broad jurisdiction over drones (also known as unmanned aircraft systems or “UAS”) in national airspace.