The FAA Invites Comments on Drone NPRM

By Scott Spangler on February 23rd, 2015

Over the past quarter century I’ve read most of the Notices of Proposed Rulemaking that would affect general aviation. What separates the just released NPRM that introduces Part 107, Operation and Certification of Small Unmanned Aircraft Systems, from all the others is not its subject, small unmanned aircraft systems, but a phrase: “The FAA invites comments.”

This phrase concludes almost every topic discussed in the drone NPRM. And when it doesn’t, “the FAA welcomes comments,” often with supporting documentation or data to support the commenter’s point. Altogether, they are like addicting chocolate chips in the yummy common-sense cookie dough of proposed regulations. The cynic in me asks, What is the government up to?

It should surprise no one that drones have, are, and will divide those involved in all aspects of aviation. I imagine the same was true among those in the FAA who met to hash out the specifics of this NPRM. Certainly, some were for drones and others were against integrating them in the National Airspace System.

In the end, it seems that they settled on requirements that didn’t stifle innovation, important to any infant industry, while establishing level of safety equivalent to the risk presented. And because the federal rulemaking process requires them to address the comments presented, we the people who comment will ultimately decide what the Part 107 final rule looks like. And it might not turn out like some might expect.

Based on past NPRM performance, how the FAA deals with the comments seems to be, in part, a numbers game, so many for versus so many against. In this case, pilots, who by and large don’t have too many good words for drones, will not be the only commenters. The newest members of the aviation community, the drone operators, will also have their say. It’s only a guess, but it seems safe that there are more operators than pilots.

But I would hope that the two groups of aviators don’t devolve into a zero-sum stalemate that would have long-term consequences for both communities. Neither side got everything it hoped for, but that’s how life works. Having read and studied all 195 pages of the NRPM, the FAA has done an admirable job, and I hope they get a chance to celebrate their good work with a good drink or two before they start slogging through all the comments that will soon be filling their in boxes.

Regardless of your opinion of drones and their commercial capabilities outlined in the NPRM, please remember that this is the first step, not the end game. As anyone who’s been involved in aviation for more than a few years surely understands, in addressing its primary responsibility of safety, the FAA likes to take incremental baby steps, especially when addressing flying machines radically different from any it has dealt with before. And it seems a safe bet that it truly does “invite” and “welcome” comments from everyone involved. –Scott Spangler, Editor

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