2014 has been the year of the unmanned aircraft systems (also known as drones). Recently, we had the opportunity to sit down with LXBN TV to discuss the state of the UAS industry and what to expect in the coming months. The interview is available here: LXBN
While many members of the growing community of developers, manufacturers and operators of Unmanned Aircraft Systems (“UAS”) have expressed enthusiasm at the National Transportation Safety Board Administrative Decision in the Pirker case, Administrator v. Pirker, NTSB Docket CP-217, July 18, 2013, their reaction should be tempered by the law of unintended consequences. The outcome of the administrative action, which the Federal Aviation Administration (“FAA”) has since appealed, acknowledges not only the FAA regulation that is certain to arise as a result of the Congressional mandate contained in the FAA Modernization and Reform Act of 2012, Pub. L. 112-95, § 334 (“FMRA”), but also opens the door to unrestricted local regulation.
Specifically, Pirker’s argument is based on the assumption that the UAS at issue is a “five-pound radio-controlled model airplane constructed of styrofoam [sic],” Motion to Dismiss, p. 1. He does not cite, or even refer to, any operant statutory or regulatory definition of “model aircraft.” On that basis, Pirker alleges that his operation of the “model airplane” cannot be regulated because FAA has “fallen far behind its own schedule, as well the scheduled mandated by Congress,” Motion to Dismiss, p. 1, for enacting regulations. Pirker again fails to refer the Court to the full extent of the Congressional mandate in FMRA which effectively disposes of his fundamental argument.
The Federal Aviation Administration (“FAA”) has appealed a recent National Transportation Safety Board administrative decision, Administrator v. Pirker, NTSB Docket CP-217, July 18, 2013, in which Administrative Law Judge Patrick Geraghty ruled that FAA had no regulatory authority when it fined the operator of an Unmanned Aircraft System (“UAS”) (otherwise known as “drone”) used for commercial photography, for operating a UAS at an altitude below that approved for commercial manned aircraft. It would do well for developers, manufacturers and operators of UAS to listen carefully to FAA’s views because the decision, while preliminary, and subject to appeal through many levels of the Federal Court system, has opened the proverbial Pandora’s Box in the relationship of manned and unmanned aircraft and their joint, or separate regulatory frameworks.
First, it is important for the UAS community to recognize that, while Administrative Law Judge Geraghty found an absence of regulatory authority in the FAA, the Opinion did not acknowledge the seminal issue of “the federal government’s pervasive regulation of aircraft, airspace and aviation safety,” see, Montalvo v. Spirit Airlines, 508 F.3d 464, 472-74 (9th Cir. 2007). That pervasive control arises under the Federal Aviation Act, 49 U.S.C. § 40101 in which Congress expressly granted to the Secretary of Transportation, through his/her designee, the FAA, the tasks of, among other things, “controlling the use of the navigable airspace and regulating civil and military operations in that airspace in the interest of the safety and efficiency of both . . .,” 49 U.S.C. § 40101(d)(4), as well as “encouraging and developing civil aeronautics, including new aviation technology.” 49 U.S.C. § 40101(d)(3). That express assignment of responsibility alone gives FAA “skin in the game.”
FAA’s response more specifically addresses what it believes to be misapprehensions about the extent of its power and authority.
The Federal Aviation Administration (“FAA”) Reauthorization includes what can only be called an “earmark” that would allow the FAA to escape from compliance with the Clean Air Act on airspace redesign projects.
A proposed Amendment to the Reauthorization would allow FAA to categorically exclude from environmental review any NEXTGEN airspace redesign that will “measurably reduce aircraft emissions and result in an absolute reduction or no net increase in noise levels.” The Clean Air Act’s conformity provision, 42 U.S.C. section 7506, however, requires more for compliance than simply a “reduction in aircraft emissions.” Instead, the conformity rule provides, in pertinent part, that “[n]o department, agency or instrumentality of the Federal Government shall engage in, support in any way or provide financial assistance for, license or permit, or approve, any activity which does not conform to an implementation plan after it has been approved or promulgated [in a State Implementation Plan].” A determination of compliance with a State Implementation Plan (“SIP”) in turn, requires: (1) an inventory of all emissions from an existing airport and surrounding emission sources, including stationary sources, such as auxiliary power units and generating facilities, and mobile sources other than aircraft such as ground support equipment and automobiles; and (2) a comparison of the project’s emissions with the “baseline” established by the inventory. That comparison will determine if the project will result in an exceedance of the benchmark emissions levels established in the SIP.
As if seven years of wrangling were not enough, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) is now proposing changes to the current airspace utilization at Kennedy and Philadelphia International Airports.
From 2002 to 2009, governmental and private entities from Connecticut to Pennsylvania, including the State of Connecticut, various local jurisdictions in New York State, environmental…
In a recent report entitled Civil Aviation Growth in the 21st Century, the Aerospace Industries Association (AIA) recommended that the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) develop strategies to integrate National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) review into the FAA’s Next Generation Air Transportation System (NextGen) implementation planning process in a way that would make NextGen environmental reviews…
On Tuesday, November 17, 2009, Chevalier, Allen & Lichman filed a Petition for Writ of Certiorari to the United States Supreme Court on behalf of its client County of Delaware, Pennsylvania (“Delaware”). The Petition asks the Court to reverse the decision of the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals in County of Rockland, New York, et…
A summary review of Aviation and Airport Development related news and information that was made public during the past week.
- FAA Administrator Babbitt’s Pilot Fatigue Advisory Committee delivers its recommendations. An advisory committee on pilot fatigue,convened by Administrator Babbitt, delivered its recommendations to the Federal Aviation Administration late Tuesday, September 1, 2009. Committee members
Several groups. individuals, cities, and counties who petitioned the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia to review the FAA’s decision to move forward with its redesign of the New York/New Jersey/Pennsylvania airspace have filed Petitions for Rehearing after the rather surprising D.C. Circuit ruled against them in an opinion that reeks of judicial indifference. See, "D.C. Court of Appeals Decides Against Challenge to East Coast Airspace Redesign," posted June 11, 2009.
In order to obtain a rehearing en banc (i.e., by all of the judges currently sitting on the D.C. Circuit), a petitioner must show:
- The decision of the panel conflicts with the decision of the U.S. Supreme Court or with the decisions of the D.C. Circuit; and/or
- The proceeding involves "one or more questions of exceptional importance."
The standard for obtaining a rehearing by the same panel of three judges who heard the matter the first time is slightly lower. A petition for rehearing will be granted when the court agrees that points of law or fact were overlooked or misapprehended by the panel. FRAP 40. In this case, all three Petitions for Rehearing ask for both a rehearing en banc and a rehearing by the panel.
Delaware County’s Petition for Rehearing
Delaware County’s Petition focuses on the court’s decision that the FAA complied with the conformity provisions of the Clean Air Act by providing a "fuel burn report" instead of a more comprehensive emission inventory According to Delaware County, this position conflicts with the U.S. Supreme Court case of Department of Transportation v. Public Citizen, 541 U.S. 752 (2004) and two D.C. Circuit cases as well: Environmental Defense Fund, Inc. v. EPA, 467 F.3d 1329 (D.C. Cir. 2006) and Friends of the Earth, Inc. v. EPA, 446 F.3d 140, 145 (D.C. Cir. 2006). These cases, Delaware County argues, require scrupulous compliance with the Clean Air Act as well as the EPA’s implementing regulations.
The court’s failure to hold the FAA to following the letter of the Clean Air Act and the EPA regulations not only conflicts with other decisions, but also presents an issue of exceptional public importance in that it contravenes the express purpose of Congress in enacting the Clean Air Act.The D.C. Circuit recently held in Environmental Defense v. EPA, 467 F.3d 1329, 1336 (D.C. Cir. 2006) that the FAA "may not ‘avoid the Congressional intent clearly expressed in the text simply by asserting that its preferred approach would be better policy.’"
In addition, Delaware County argues that the panel misapprehended several critical facts, not the least of which is the fact that the court based its rejection of one the Petitioners’ critical arguments on the Petitioners not raising the issue in their Opening Brief. The Petition for Rehearing cites the references in the Opening Brief where that issue was raised.
Finally, Delaware County contends that that the panel misapprehends the burden of proof necessary in this matter. Under the holdings of Alabama Power v. Costle, 636 F.2d 323, 360 (D.C. Cir. 1979) and Association of Administrative Law Judges v. Federal Labor Relations Authority, 379 F.3d 957 (D.C. Cir. 2005) the burden is on the agency to fully document that an agency’s action falls within a de minimis exemption.