The Senate and House remain in recess until after the November 6th elections. Following the elections, the chambers will reconvene the week of November 12th. Congress will hold a “lame duck” session in November and December, with activity that will include: election of House leadership for both parties for the 116th Congress, which will convene on January 3, 2019; and completion of work on the remaining Fiscal Year 2019 appropriations legislation. The current “continuing resolution”, which funds parts of the government not subject to enacted full-year appropriations bills, expires on December 7, 2018.

Drone Provisions in FAA Bill 

The “FAA Reauthorization Act of 2018” (H.R. 302, P.L. 115-254), which the President signed into law on October 5, incorporates a range of aviation safety provisions. These include those addressing rotorcraft crash resistant fuel systems and enhancing the FAA’s air medical data collection program, which were described in previous editions of “Eye on Washington”. The bill also includes more than 40 different provisions addressing the operation of unmanned aerial systems (UAS). As noted during House floor debate by Representative Rick Larsen (D-WA), the legislation is intended to establish “the groundwork for the safe and swift integration of drones into the national airspace, and advanced drone operations like package delivery.”

The provisions include:

  • Section 342 directs the Secretary of Transportation (the Secretary) to “update the comprehensive plan…to develop a concept of operations for the integration of unmanned aircraft into the national airspace system.”
  • Section 343 requires the FAA to “carry out and update, as appropriate, a program for the use of the test ranges to facilitate the safe integration of unmanned aircraft systems into the national airspace system.”
  • Section 345 directs the Secretary to develop a process to accept standards for small UAS.
  • Section 346 directs the Secretary to simplify the process for issuing a certificate of waiver or a certificate of authorization to operate a public UAS in the national airspace system.
  • Section 347 directs the Secretary to “use a risk-based approach to determine if certain unmanned aircraft systems may operate safely in the national airspace system…” The Secretary is also directed to determine “which types of unmanned aircraft systems, if any, as a result of their size, weight, speed, operational capability, proximity to airports and populated areas, operation over people, and operation within or beyond the visual line of sight, or operation during the day or night, do not create a hazard to users of the national airspace system or the public”.
  • Section 349 establishes the criteria for qualifying for exemption from operating small UAS “without specific certification or operating authority from the” FAA.
  • Section 350 authorizes the FAA to “establish regulations, procedures, and standards, as necessary, to facilitate the safe operation of unmanned aircraft systems operated by institutions of higher education for educational or research purposes.”
  • Section 351 authorizes the Secretary to “establish a pilot program to enable enhanced drone operations as required in the…Presidential Memorandum entitled ‘Unmanned Aircraft Systems Integration Pilot Program’…”
  • Section 352 directs the FAA to publish on its web site “a representative sample of the safety justifications, offered by applicants for small unmanned aircraft system waivers and airspace authorizations, that have been approved…for each regulation waived or class of airspace authorized, except that any published justification shall not reveal proprietary or commercially sensitive information.”
  • Section 353 directs the FAA to, “as necessary, update and improve the Special Government Interest process described in chapter 7 of Federal Aviation Administration Order JO 7200.23A to ensure that civil and public operators, including local law enforcement agencies and first responders, continue to use unmanned aircraft system operations quickly and efficiently in response to a catastrophe, disaster, or other emergency.”
  • Section 356 authorizes $1 million in appropriations annually through Fiscal Year 2023 for the “Know Before You Fly Campaign”.
  • Section 359 directs the FAA to “conduct a study on the use of unmanned aircraft systems by fire departments and emergency service agencies”.
  • Section 362 expresses the Sense of Congress that “the unauthorized operation of unmanned aircraft near airports presents a serious hazard to aviation safety” and that the FAA “should pursue all available civil and administrative remedies…including referrals to other government agencies for criminal investigations, with respect to persons who operate unmanned aircraft in an unauthorized manner”.
  • Section 364 directs the FAA to coordinate with other agencies regarding the operation of counter-UAS systems.
  • Section 365 directs “the Secretary of Transportation [to] consult with the Secretary of Defense to streamline deployment of [counter-UAS systems] by drawing upon the expertise and experience of the Department of Defense in acquiring and operating such systems consistent with the safe and efficient operation of the national airspace system”.
  • Section 366 requires the FAA to “develop a comprehensive strategy to provide outreach to State and local governments and provide guidance for local law enforcement agencies and first responders with respect to—(1) how to identify and respond to public safety threats posed by unmanned aircraft systems; and (2) how to identify and take advantage of opportunities to use unmanned aircraft systems to enhance the effectiveness of local law enforcement agencies and first responders.”
  • Section 368 directs the Secretary of Transportation to “issue guidance for the expedited and timely access to special use airspace for public unmanned aircraft systems in order to assist Federal, State, local, or tribal law enforcement organizations in conducting law enforcement, emergency response, or for other activities.”
  • Section 369 amends Section 2209 of the “FAA Extension, Safety, and Security Act of 2016” (P.L. 114-190) which establishes the authority of the FAA to “prohibit or restrict the operation of an unmanned aircraft in close proximity” to certain designated facilities including critical infrastructure and amusement parks.
  • Section 370 expresses the Sense of Congress that “integrating unmanned aircraft systems safely into the national airspace, including beyond visual line of sight operations, nighttime operations on a routine basis, and operations over people should remain a top priority for the [FAA] as it pursues additional rulemakings…”
  • Section 373 directs the Government Accountability Office (GAO) to report to Congress “on the relative roles of the Federal Government, State, local and Tribal governments in the regulation and oversight of low-altitude operations of unmanned aircraft systems in the national airspace system”.
  • Section 376 directs the FAA, in consultation with NASA to “develop a plan to allow for the implementation of unmanned aircraft systems traffic management (UTM) services that expand operations beyond visual line of sight, have full operational capability, and ensure the safety and security of all aircraft.”
  • Section 377 directs the FAA “upon request of a UTM service provider, [to] determine if certain UTM services may operate safely in the national airspace system before completion of the implementation plan required by section 376.”
  • Section 379 directs the FAA to establish a web site that provides information, including: UAS registrations; and “certificate[s] of waiver or authorization[s] issued by the Administration to Federal, State, tribal or local governments for the operation of” UAS.
  • Section 380 states that “all orders, determinations, rules, regulations, permits, grants, and contracts, which have been issued under [laws enacted] before the effective date of this Act shall continue in effect until modified or revoked by the Secretary…, acting through the Administrator of the [FAA], as applicable, by a court of competent jurisdiction, or by operation of law other than this Act.”
  • Section 382 establishes criminal penalties for anyone who operates a UAS and “knowingly or recklessly interferes with a wildfire suppression, or law enforcement or emergency response efforts related to a wildfire suppression”.
  • Section 383 directs the FAA to coordinate with other agencies to ensure “that technologies or systems that are developed, tested, or deployed by Federal departments and agencies to detect and mitigate potential risks posed by errant or hostile unmanned aircraft system operations do not adversely impact or interfere with safe airport operations, navigation, air traffic services, or the safe and efficient operation of the national airspace system.”
  • Section 384 establishes criminal penalties for any person operating a UAS who: “(1) Knowingly interferes with, or disrupts the operation of, an aircraft carrying 1 or more occupants operating in the special aircraft jurisdiction of the United States, in a manner that poses an imminent safety hazard to such occupants…”; or “(2) Recklessly interferes with, or disrupts the operation of, an aircraft carrying 1 or more occupants operating in the special aircraft jurisdiction of the United States, in a manner that poses an imminent safety hazard to such occupants…”

Member Reminder

AAMS fully supports the “Ensuring Access to Air Ambulance Services Act” (H.R. 3378 and S. 2121), bipartisan legislation that would address the shortfall in Medicare reimbursements for air medical services. AAMS encourages members to contact their Senators and Members of Congress to ask them to cosponsor the legislation.

The bills would reform the Medicare fee schedule for air ambulance services, starting with a cost reporting and analysis program conducted by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS), followed by: rebasing of air medical reimbursements; and implementation of a Value-Based Purchasing (VBP) Program. The bill would enhance transparency by establishing cost and quality reporting requirements, as well as solve for a growing gap between Medicare payments and costs.

Representatives Jackie Walorski (R-IN), Suzan DelBene (D-WA), Bill Johnson (R-OH), Raul Ruiz (D-CA), and Pete Sessions (R-TX) introduced H.R. 3378. The bill currently has 46 cosponsors.

Senators Dean Heller (R-NV), Michael Bennet (D-CO), and Cory Gardner (R-CO), introduced the Senate version of the bill. Senators Catherine Cortez Masto (D-NV), Tim Scott (R-SC), Shelley Moore Capito (R-WV), Todd Young (R-IN), and Doug Jones (D-AL) are also cosponsors.

Additional information on this legislation, as well as on how to contact your Member of Congress and Senators: