Michael Drobac and John Marciano Quoted in Unmanned Aerial Online on New Drone Regulations from the FAA

Michael Drobac, senior policy advisor in the public law and policy practice at Akin Gump, and John Marciano, partner in the firm’s global project finance practice, were quoted in the Unmanned Aerial Online article “FAA’s Final Drone Rule: Did the Agency Get It Right?” discussing the Federal Aviation Administration’s new rules pertaining to the use of commercial drones.

As part of the new rulemaking, the article reports, drones will not be permitted to fly at night, beyond the visual line of sight (BVLOS) of the operator or directly over people. Speaking about the lack of permitted BVLOS operations, Drobac, who represents the Small UAV Coalition, said, “The whole concept of an unmanned aerial vehicle or system is that it’s autonomous.” He thinks the rule could limit businesses that require BVLOS flights, such as those in the oil and gas, mining, utility or security industries where inspection areas can often span for miles.

Drobac suggested several considerations for the FAA when granting waivers to the rules, including “technical capability, operational experience, operational environment and operational limitations.” He cited the example of one company that received an exemption to conduct inspections at night.

For Marciano, whose practice includes the unmanned aerial systems, power and financial industries, the new rules bring much-needed clarity. “From a financing standpoint, we’ve been completely unable to do anything without any regulations,” he said, explaining that it was not clear whether “those who were operating were doing so in the confines of the law.” He added that having a clear set of rules is a big milestone in and of itself.

Drobac agreed that the release of the rules is “an incredible moment for opening up opportunities in the UAS industry. Based on the FAA’s work to date,” the rulemaking is “more progressive than most thought it would be. It didn’t go just to where people thought it would go,” he said, noting, in particular, the benefit of the FAA’s removing the manned pilot license requirement and, instead, requiring operators to obtain a remote pilot certificate in a way that is “as accessible and user-friendly as possible.”

Marciano suggested that a provision clarifying that the FAA has the sole authority for regulating airspace would be helpful, saying some clients have been confused about privacy rules as well as by whether local laws can prevent drones from flying over their property. “They should have included some preemption language in the rules,” he said.

Finally, while the new rules are welcome to those in the drone industry and “there’s a certain degree of euphoria that’s taking over,” Drobac said it’s “not lost on anyone” that Congress told the FAA to have drones integrated into airspace nine months ago. “There have been a number of businesses and finance operations that have been on hold while we’ve been waiting for this commercial rule. I’m thrilled we’re open for business,” he said, “but there’s a lot more to do here.”