Over the last couple of years, we have seen an increase in state regulation of unmanned aircraft systems (UAS). A recent report published by the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) titled “A Guide to State Laws Impacting UAS/UAV Operations” identifies the restriction of operations near critical infrastructure among the leading trends in state regulation of UAS. Notwithstanding the emergence of state regulation in this field, the enactment of the FAA Extension, Safety, and Security Act, 2016 (the “Act”), indicates that Congress intends to vest the authority to protect critical infrastructure from UAS with the FAA. In light of this development, states that have enacted laws or are considering regulating in this field, should consult with the FAA in order to promote a unified national framework that addresses local concerns.
On July 15, 2016, Congress enacted the FAA Extension, Safety, and Security Act (the “Act”), which among other things, directs the Secretary of Transportation to establish a process to enable applicants to petition the FAA Administrator to “prohibit or restrict the operation of an unmanned aircraft in close proximity to a fixed site facility.” Congress tasked the FAA with establishing a process for designating fixed site facilities no later than 180 days from the date of enactment. Below is an outline of the key problematic provisions in Section 2209 and a proposed path forward for establishing a process that meets the Congressional directive while not unnecessarily restricting industry.