March 24, 2023

A new amendment to the House proposal for FAA Reauthorization, the 21st Century AIRR Act, calls for a micro drone classification for drone regulations.

The amendment, offered by Rep. Rodney Davis of Illinois, calls for a special category of regulations for drones weighing under 4.4 pounds.  According to the amendment, operators of drones weighing less than 4.4 pounds including payload would not be required to hold an airman’s certificate; instead taking a simpler test.  The amendment says that micro drones may be flown:

By an operator who has passed an aeronautical knowledge and safety test administered by the Federal Aviation Administration online specifically for the operation of micro unmanned aircraft systems, with such test being of a length and difficulty that acknowledges the reduced operational complexity and low risk of micro unmanned aircraft systems.

Drone manufacturers like DJI have lobbied repeatedly for a risk categorization based on size that would relax regulations for smaller, lighter weight aircraft.  However, the FAA has said that they would not consider risk-based categories based on size but preferred to consider the use of the drone instead.

Last year’s version of both House and Senate FAA Reauthorization packages had some form of micro drone proposal added to them.

While much of the wording of the new AIRR Act was obviously carried over from older versions, containing deadlines long since passed, the 21st Century AIRR Act as it stands now does update the timeline for drone integration, giving the FAA 18 months to figure out aspects of Unmanned Traffic Control.

As both the AIRR Act and the Senate proposal have passed committee, further changes are expected as the bills move to the House and Senate for discussion.  With the issue of privatizing air traffic control at the forefront of discussion (the AIRR Act would privatize ATC, the Senate package would not) the sections referring to unmanned systems may take a backseat in the first round of revisions.