New Legislation Seeks to Upgrade Commercial Drone Rules

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A bipartisan bill aims to carve a more straightforward path for commercial drone technology approval.

A pair of lawmakers want to jumpstart competition for the domestic manufacturing of drone aircraft devices in a continued bid to maintain global technology manufacturing competitiveness through the introduction of new legislation. 

Sens. Mark Warner, D-Va., and John Thune, R-S,D,, introduced the Increasing Competitiveness for American Drones Act of 2023 Wednesday, with the primary objective to facilitate business operations through drones that can fly beyond visual line of sight, or BVLOS. 

The Federal Aviation Administration currently requires unmanned aerial system operators, or drone pilots, to seek waivers from the agency prior to utilizing a BVLOS UAS for business purposes. The bill would require the FAA to change this rule, allowing BVLOS-flying drones to operate under a new regulatory pathway for flight approval. 

“Drones have the ability to transform so much of the way we do business. Beyond package delivery, drones can change the way we grow crops, manage disasters, maintain our infrastructure and administer medicine,” said Warner in prepared comments. “If we want the drones of tomorrow to be manufactured in the U.S. and not in China, we have to start working today to integrate them into our airspace.”

The bill proposes a new system of risk methodology to help regulators decide what level of scrutiny is required in approving a BVLOS drone to fly. This framework is mainly dictated by the weight of a proposed UAS system, establishing different approval processes for aircrafts starting at the weight of 55 lbs.

A new position at the FAA, the associate administrator of UAS integration, would also be created with the passage of the bill. 

“Drones have the potential to transform the economy, with innovative opportunities for transportation and agriculture that would benefit rural states like South Dakota,” Thune said. “I’m proud to support this legislation that provides a clear framework for the approval of complex drone operations, furthering the integration of these aircraft into the National Airspace System.”

Warner and Thune are not the only senators contemplating the future of drones in the U.S. In late January, Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, introduced a bill intended to prevent the misuse of drone technologies.