Even with the rapid growth of Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS) or drones, one of the FAA’s primary rules is that the pilot must maintain visual line of sight with the unmanned aircraft at all times. When waivers were granted for “extended line of sight” operations, visual observers on the ground were still required. Those operational constraints are about to change.

Collaborative projects between private industry and the Universities of Alaska-Fairbanks and Hawaii are transforming dreams into reality for the unmanned aircraft community. These technological accomplishments are laying the foundations to provide vital services to rural and outlying communities through long-distance search and rescue, surveying and telecommunications platforms mounted onboard solar powered drones.Continue Reading Important Milestones Are Being Met in Alaska and Hawaii for Unmanned Aircraft Systems

The proverbial hacksaw inside a prisoner’s birthday cake has been supplanted by a new technological trend for bringing contraband into the jailhouse – Unmanned Aircraft Systems (“UAS”). As early as 2015, a fight broke out at the Mansfield Correctional Institution in Ohio when a drone carrying tobacco, marijuana, and heroin crashed into a yard inside the facility. That same year, a drone trafficking hacksaw blades, a cellphone, and Super Glue crashed into a maximum security prison in Oklahoma. Similar plots have been attempted in more than a dozen states nationwide, leading states like North Carolina, Tennessee, and Texas to ban drone flights over correctional facilities. Perhaps to save us from another pre-emption fight over UAS operational restrictions, the federal government is now following suit.
Continue Reading FAA Adds to No-Fly Zones for Drones After Prisoners Smuggle Drugs, Weapons Through the Skies

September 8, 2017
New Developments
The SELF DRIVE Act Motors Through Congress
By Mark Pratzel

On September 6, 2017 the House of Representatives unanimously passed H.R. 3388, also known as the “Safely Ensuring Lives Future Deployment and Research in Vehicle Evolution Act,” also known as the “SELF DRIVE Act.” The broad, bipartisan support for this

August 9, 2016
New Developments
GM’s Ignition Switch Litigation Woes Continue
By Shannon Peters

“Just when I thought I was out…they pull me back in.” That must be what GM’s executives (and counsel) were thinking when the Second Circuit handed down its recent decision overturning portions of the 2015 Bankruptcy Court decision that could have

June 7, 2016
New Developments
Driverless Cars and the Law
By Mark Pratzel

As driverless car technology evolves, questions continue to arise regarding its legal repercussions. Google, one of the leading forces behind autonomous cars, predicts that they will be available to the public by 2020.  Nissan and Tesla are also developing self-driven car technology.  And

In Sikkelee v. Precision Airmotive Corp., 45 F.Supp.3d 431 (M.D. Pa. 2014), a wrongful death suit arising from the crash of a Cessna 172 claiming defects in the carburetor of its Lycoming engine and the related manuals and instructions, the plaintiff alleged that Lycoming violated various design requirements for the engine type certificate, and failed to report failures, malfunctions or defects as required by the Federal Air Regulations. The District Court applied Abdullah v. American Airlines, 181 F.3d 363 (3d Cir. 1999), which held that the Federal Aviation Act preempts the entire field of aviation safety and that federal standards govern the safe operation of aircraft. It dismissed all of Sikkelee’s claims except those based on the alleged reporting failures, concluding that the design-related claims were preempted because the issuance of a type certificate for the engine by the Federal Aviation Administration “denotes the Administrator’s finding that the engine met all applicable requirements.”
Continue Reading Air Safety: Federal Preemption of Aircraft Design Defect Claims

On March 9, 2016, the Senate introduced the FAA Reauthorization Act of 2016 (S. 2658), and it contains the following provisions related to unmanned aircraft systems (“UAS”) regulation and consumer protection:

  • Directs the FAA to develop an online knowledge and safety test which operators of UAS must pass before flying.
  • Directs the FAA and NASA to develop a pilot program for a UAS traffic management system, with 6 test sites.
  • Directs both the National Telecommunications and Information Administration and the Comptroller General to develop a report on UAS privacy best-practices.
  • Creates a new commercial and governmental UAS registration database.
  • Creates a civil penalty of up to $20,000 to operate UAS in a way which interferes with firefighting, law enforcement, or emergency response activities.

Continue Reading Senate FAA Reauthorization Bill Focuses on Drone Regulations

On February 11, 2016, H.R. 4441 – the Aircraft Innovation Reform and Reauthorization Act (“AIRR Act”) passed out of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee (“T&I Committee”). According to T&I Committee chairman, Representative Bill Shuster, “[t]he committee considered approximately 75 amendments during today’s meeting and more than half of them were approved.” Of the amendments

On February 3, 2016, Representatives Bill Schuster of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee introduced H.R. 4441, the Aviation Innovation, Reform and Reauthorization Act of 2016 (“AIRR Act”).  The AIRR Act is a six year re-authorization of the Federal Aviation Administration (“FAA”) and addresses, for example, reforms to air traffic control, FAA’s certification processes, and funding for airport infrastructure.  The full text of the AIRR Act can be found here, and a summary prepared by the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee can be found here.  Importantly, the AIRR Act also contains a number of proposed reforms to facilitate the greater introduction of Unmanned Aircraft Systems (“UAS”) into the national air-space system. 
Continue Reading FAA Reauthorization Bill Introduced in House