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FAA Reauthorization Act accelerates third-party UTM services and BVLOS operations

The US House of Representatives and the US Senate have reached a bipartisan agreement on H.R. 3935 -The FAA Reauthorization Act of 2024, opening the door to independent UTM companies to manage advanced air mobility operations in the US National Airspace System.

According to a paragraph in section 957 of the Act

“Beginning 40 months after the date of enactment of this Act, the Administrator shall….evaluate the human factors impacts on controllers associated with managing powered-lift aircraft operations, consider the impact of additional operations on air traffic controller staffing, and make necessary changes to staffing, procedures, regulations, and orders; and consider the use of third-party service providers to manage increased operations in controlled airspace to support, supplement, and enhance the work of air traffic controllers.”

Other key provisions in the Act extend the BEYOND UTM research programme, develop a comprehensive drone integration strategy and direct the FAA to issue a notice of proposed rulemaking within four months to establish a performance-based regulatory pathway for UAS to operate BVLOS.

Other key provisions of the Act include:

Sec. 905.  Radar data pilot program This section directs the FAA, in coordination with the Secretary of the Department of Defense (DOD) and other relevant Federal agencies, to establish a pilot program to make airspace data feeds containing controlled unclassified information available to qualified users.  This section sunsets on October 1, 2028.

Sec. 906.  Electronic conspicuity study This section directs GAO to study technologies and methods for UAS to detect and avoid manned aircraft that may lawfully operate below 500 feet above ground level. The study requires GAO to consult with aviation stakeholder representatives, and to report to Congress on the findings of such study.

Sec. 907.  Remote identification alternative means of compliance This section requires the Administrator to review and evaluate the FAA final rule titled “Remote Identification of Unmanned Aircraft” to determine if unmanned aircraft manufacturers and operators can comply through alternative means of compliance, including through network based remote identification. The FAA shall submit to the appropriate committees of Congress a report on the results of the evaluation.

  1. Unmanned and Autonomous Flight Advisory Committee This section requires the Administrator to establish an Unmanned and Autonomous Flight Advisory Committee to advise the FAA on the technical challenges related to the certification and operational standards of highly automated aircraft. This new committee will be made up of representatives from the UAS industry, community advocates, and certified aviation labor unions. The Committee must submit an annual report to Congress on its activities.

Sec. 919.  Review of regulations to enable unescorted UAS operations This section directs the FAA, in coordination with DOD to conduct a review of requirements necessary to permit UAS operated by a Federal agency or an Armed Service to operate in the national airspace system without the need for an escort by a manned aircraft. The FAA must submit to the appropriate committees of Congress a report of the review.

Sec. 920.  Extension of the BEYOND program This section directs the FAA to extend the existing BEYOND program and consider expanding the program to additional State, local, and tribal governments to enable testing of other new and emerging aviation concepts and technologies to inform policies, rulemaking, and guidance needed to enable these new concepts and technologies.

Sec. 921.  UAS integration strategy This section directs the FAA to implement the recommendations made by GAO to develop a comprehensive drone integration strategy and ways to communicate more clearly with drone operators.  In addition, this section requires the FAA to implement the recommendation made by the Inspector General (IG) of the Department of Transportation (DOT) for the agency to establish goals, milestones, and performance measures for the BEYOND program.  The FAA is required to brief the appropriate committees of Congress on the status of such implementation annually through FY 2028.

Sec. 930.  Beyond visual line of sight operations for unmanned aircraft systems This section directs the FAA to issue a notice of proposed rulemaking within 4 months to establish a performance-based regulatory pathway for UAS to operate BVLOS. The proposed rule developed under this section shall establish acceptable levels of risk for BVLOS operations and standards for remote pilots, provide a process for the approval of associated elements of UAS, and ensure the safety of manned aviation. Within 16 months of issuing the notice of proposed rulemaking, the Administrator must issue a final rule.  This section contains a savings clause to ensure the agency doesn’t need to rescope any rulemaking efforts currently underway to enable BVLOS operations in the NAS.

Sec. 931.  Acceptable levels of risk and risk assessment methodology This section directs the FAA to develop a risk assessment methodology that will allow for the determination of acceptable levels of risk to enable certain UAS operations, including operations beyond the visual light of sight. The FAA must make the risk assessment methodology available to the public on an FAA website.

Sec. 932.  Third-party service approvals This section directs the FAA to establish procedures to approve third party service suppliers (including providers of UAS traffic management) in order to support commercial operation of UAS and their safe integration into the national airspace system. In establishing procedures, the FAA must ensure, to the maximum extent practicable, industry consensus standards are included as an acceptable means of compliance for third party services.

Sec. 955.  Rules for operation of powered-lift aircraft  This section requires the FAA to publish a special final rule for the operations of, and pilot requirements for, powered lift aircraft within 7 months and applies specific requirements and considerations to such rulemaking.    If the FAA fails to publish such special final rule within 16 months, specific existing operating and training rules shall apply to powered-lift aircraft until such time as the FAA publishes a special final rule.   In addition, this section establishes a powered-lift aviation rulemaking advisory committee to provide recommendations on the development of permanent regulations for the certification and operation of powered-lift aircraft. The FAA shall initiate a rulemaking based on those recommendations and other requirements.

Sec. 958.  Infrastructure supporting vertical flight This section requires the FAA to update the Vertiport Design Engineering Brief, publish a performance-based vertiport design advisory circular, and begin performing the work necessary to update the Heliport Design Advisory Circular in order to provide performance-based design guidance.  This section further requires that the FAA provide a mechanism by which an existing infrastructure operator can safely accommodate powered-lift aircraft. Lastly, this section requires that the FAA provide Airport District Offices with adequate guidance to support the development of vertiports, update relevant forms, and consider poweredlift operations in operational forecasts.

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