Drones

What’s part 2209 why is it vital to drone business?

News and comment. What is Section 2209 of the FAA Extension, Safety and Security Act of 2016 – and why is it so important to the drone industry that stakeholders urge the FAA to implement it ASAP?

What is Section 2209?

Section 2209 simply requires the FAA to establish defined boundaries to protect “critical infrastructure” from unauthorized drones. In reality it is a complex problem. The FAA needs to define the locations that are banned for drones – possibly in cooperation with state and local governments to decide which locations to designate as “fixed location facilities”. From oil refineries to amusement parks, the law also allows “other locations that warrant such restrictions,” which leaves the fixed location category wide open.

From HR 636, the FAA Extension, Safety and Security Act of 2016:

(Sec. 2209) DOT defines procedures with which applicants can request the FAA to prohibit or restrict the operation of drones in the immediate vicinity of a fixed facility (an affirmative term).

A “localized facility” is defined as:

  • critical infrastructures such as power generation, transmission and distribution plants and equipment;
  • Oil refineries and chemical plants;
  • Amusement parks; and
  • other places that justify such restrictions.

The FAA publishes the names on a public website.

The FAA Reauthorization Act of 2018 gave the FAA a deadline to implement Section 2209 that was not followed. Under the Reauthorization Act, the FAA was required to publish a Proposed Regulation (NPRM) notice on Section 2209 by March 31, 2019: The final regulation was due 12 months after the NPRM was published. To date, no NPRM on Section 2209 has been issued.

Drone industry stakeholders urge the FAA to take action

Last week, two major coalitions sent a letter to FAA chief administrator Steve Dickson urging him to act under Section 2209 as soon as possible. “The Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International (AUVSI), the Commercial Drone Alliance, the Consumer Technology Association and the Small UAV Coalition are calling on the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) to publish a rule proposal to establish a process for designating airspace over and around critical infrastructure facilities at fixed locations. “Writes AUVSI (copy of the letter available here.). The U.S. Chamber of Commerce group also released a letter to the FAA signed by a significant list of drone and critical infrastructure stakeholders (see signers and a copy of the letter here).

Section 2209 is critical to the commercial drone industry because, without a system of defining “fixed locations” at the federal level, states and local governments have intervened to define their own critical locations as restricted to drones. Without a federal definition, drone operators may not have a single source of information that defines locations and helps them comply with airspace restrictions. Unless locations are defined at the federal level, there is no efficient way for drone operators to request an exemption from restrictions when required for public safety, emergencies, or legitimate commercial uses.

Who is responsible for the airspace?

If Section 2209 is not enacted, it will not just be about the publication of a particular rule: the FAA’s failure to establish that it has sole authority to regulate national airspace – and that can have far-reaching consequences.

As AUVSI and the other signatories wrote in their letter,

We support this rulemaking to protect critical infrastructure facilities from the risk that malicious, reckless, or ignorant UAS operations can pose and to ensure that the federal government – not the state or local governments – controls national airspace. The delay in establishing an airspace designation process has left a vacuum that invites state and local governments to impose restrictions on UAS operations over and near a variety of structures. “

The letter from the US Chamber of Commerce reflects these opinions and says:

“In the absence of the necessary regulations, many states have passed laws to protect critical infrastructure sites, which has created a patchwork of state laws that is confusing for critical infrastructure actors and the UAS industry.”

Miriam McNabb is the Editor-in-Chief of DRONELIFE and CEO of JobForDrones, a professional marketplace for drone services, and a passionate observer of the emerging drone industry and regulatory environment for drones. Author of over 3,000 articles focusing on the commercial drone space, Miriam is an international speaker and recognized figure in the industry. Miriam graduated from the University of Chicago and has over 20 years experience in high-tech sales and marketing for emerging technologies.
For advice or writing in the drone industry, email Miriam.

TWITTER: @spaldingbarker

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