In a legislative analysis released today, the Niskanen Center’s technology policy department looks at the Senate’s version of the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) Reauthorization Act of 2017. In particular, we examine the entirety of Title II, Subtitle A, which addresses reforms to the current system governing the use of commercial and recreational unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) in the national airspace.

We give a brief overview of the four parts of this portion of the bill—privacy and transparency, unmanned aircraft systems, operator safety, and other matters—and provide an analysis of the proposed provisions. In general, the Act makes many positive contributions to the rules governing commercial UAS operations, but the extended timeframes granted to the FAA are a cause for concern. This is especially true given the Agency’s poor track record in meeting the deadlines established by the FAA Modernization and Reform Act of 2012.

Congress should include more forceful language that would better incentivize the agency to meet the statutorily-mandated timeframes established throughout the bill, or penalize them for failing to do so. Otherwise, the certainty required to ensure this emerging industry profits the American people may be unnecessarily postponed.

From the conclusion:

The overall text of Title II, Subtitle A of the FAA Reauthorization Act of 2017 is a step in the right direction for establishing clear and minimally burdensome rules for commercial UAS operations in the domestic airspace. Improvements can primarily come in the form of provisions that penalize or otherwise incentivize the FAA to adhere to the deadlines included in the bill’s language. The best legislative text is only as good as the institutional ability (and intent) to implement its provisions. If Congress is serious about the provisions outlined in Title II, Subtitle A of this bill, it needs to ensure much stronger means for ensuring the FAA is held to the deadlines in the text.

Read the full analysis here.