Concern Over Another Extension on FAA Bill
Aviation groups are becoming increasingly concerned that the U.S. Congress is headed for another extension of the FAA’s operating authority. The FAA is already functioning under its second
extension, and Congress has until July 15 to pass a comprehensive FAA reauthorization bill or opt for a third extension.
General Aviation Manufacturers Association’s (GAMA) President and CEO Pete Bunce shared his concern that if the FAA bill gets pushed into next year, it would mean that bipartisan provisions in both the Senate-passed and House Committee-passed FAA bills that would improve aviation safety, reduce bureaucratic inefficiencies and help support aviation manufacturing jobs would not be enacted.
In February, the U.S. House Transportation and Infrastructure (T&I) Committee passed its version of comprehensive FAA reauthorization legislation, but that bill has stalled over opposition to a measure to create a separate not-for-profit air traffic control (ATC) organization. The Senate passed its version of the FAA bill, minus the controversial ATC measure, in April.
A letter sent by Senate Commerce Committee chairman John Thune (R-S.D.) and Democrat Bill Nelson (D-Fla.), urged their House counterparts to take up the Senate bill. The senators warned that the House ATC measure likely would not win full Senate support at this time.
The coalition formed to oppose the ATC measure, the Americans Against Air Traffic Privatization (AAATP), noted that more than 10,000 letters have been sent to Congress in opposition of the ATC reorganization effort.
NBAA Welcomes Sensible Regulations for Commercial Small UAS Operations
The National Business Aviation Association (NBAA) welcomed the FAA’s publication of formal regulations providing clear guidance over the use of small unmanned aircraft systems (s-UAS) for commercial purposes, including applications within the business aviation industry. Other general aviation groups, including AOPA (Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association), are also in support of the new regulation.
The newly-created Federal Aviation Regulation (FAR) 14 CFR Part 107 applies to commercial use of UAS weighing less than 55 lbs., and generally follows the agency’s notice of proposed rulemaking (NPRM) released in early 2015 with key differences reflecting input from NBAA and other industry stakeholders.
“We commend the FAA for balancing the imperative to maintain safety for manned aircraft operating in the national airspace system (NAS) with the practical needs of this rapidly-emerging industry,” said Bob Lamond, NBAA director, air traffic services & infrastructure.
Changes from the Notice of Proposed Rule Making (NPRM) include lowering the maximum operating altitude for UAS to 400 feet above ground level (100 feet below the minimum altitude for manned aircraft) and revised classification of a UAS operator as Remote Pilot in Command (PIC).
Remote PICs must be at least 16 years of age, and be able to read, speak, and write in English. New UAS operators will be required to obtain a remote pilot certificate by passing an initial aeronautical exam at an approved FAA testing center, with subsequent recurrent testing every two years. Operators with an existing, non-student Part 61 pilot certificate may meet the exam requirement through an online training course.
Remote PICs will also be required to obtain prior permission from ATC when operating small UAS in Class B, C, D and E airspace, likely through an online portal. However, specific information about this process remains largely unknown at this time, with the FAA stating the issue will be addressed in the coming weeks.
“With the mixing of UAS and manned aircraft in the vicinity of airports, NBAA is very concerned that clear guidance for notification of UAS activity near airports is provided by the FAA as soon as possible,” Lamond added.
Carrying over from the NPRM are requirements that small UAS be registered with the FAA, and operate only in daytime VFR conditions within visual line-of-sight of the Remote PIC or visual observers. Unmanned aircraft may not be operated over people on the ground, and all UAS must yield right-of-way to all other aircraft.
The FAA intends Part 107 to eliminate many burdensome hurdles under the current Section 333 exemption process, including certificate of authorization (COA) requirements and that Notices to Airmen (NOTAMs) be issued for UAS operations. However, current exemption holders may continue operating under Section 333 until that exemption expires.
Part 107 also allows exemptions to be granted for missions not otherwise authorized under the rule, including flights over people, nighttime operations, and flights occurring outside published altitude, cloud distance and minimum visibility, and speed restrictions.
NBAA personnel have participated in UAS working groups for 10 years, including participation through RTCA. The association has also published an expansive online resource covering UAS industry developments of importance to the business aviation community.
The new Part 107 regulations are expected to go into effect by late August, 60 days after publication on the Federal Register. Commercial operator testing and issuance of Remote Pilot Airman certifications will not be available until the rule goes into effect.
Customs Soon Availablein Houston Area
The former Lone Star Executive Airport (CXO), now Conroe-North Houston Regional Airport, will offer U.S. Customs service from a newly constructed $2.4 million facility. The 3,200-square-foot building is located on the ramp next to the Galaxy FBO.
The service will incur a user fee and be staffed by U.S. Customs during regular hours of 10:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m. Monday through Friday and available after hours on demand. The airport, which is owned by Montgomery County is located 46 miles outside of Houston, and has a 7,500-foot main runway. Supporters of the newly added customs service say it will allow long-range business jets to fly direct from Central and South America, Canada and Europe, while bypassing the congested metro-Houston airspace.
The customs service is projected to be open by mid-July.