On June 25, 2014, the Federal Aviation Administration (“FAA”) published in the Federal Register, 79 Fed.Reg. 36172, its “Interpretation of the Special Rule for Model Aircraft” (“Interpretation”) established by Congress in the FAA Modernization and Reform Act of 2012, Pub.L. 112-95, § 336 (“FMRA”).  Despite its name, FAA’s interpretation goes far beyond mere definitional clarification.  It is, instead, the first step in establishing FAA’s preemptive authority over Unmanned Aircraft Systems (“UAS”) as “aircraft” utilizing the National Airspace System (“NAS”), even where the operator of an UAS chooses to denominate it a “model aircraft.” 

As a first step in asserting its regulatory authority, FAA takes the position that Congress’ rule in the FMRA is nothing new, but, instead, relies heavily on the long standing statutory and regulatory definition of model aircraft as “aircraft,” i.e., mechanisms that are “invented, used or designed to navigate or fly in the air,” 49 U.S.C. § 40102; 14 C.F.R. § 1.1.  FAA also applies its own 2007 guidelines regarding UAS operating in the NAS, which recognizes that UAS fall within the statutory and regulatory definition of “aircraft” as “devices that are used or intended to be used for flight in the air with no onboard pilot.”  72 Fed.Reg. 6689 (February 13, 2007). 

FAA’s Interpretation, however, goes far beyond the simple inclusion of “model aircraft” in the category of “aircraft.”  The Interpretation expands even further upon FMRA’s three part test defining a “model aircraft” as an “unmanned aircraft” that is: “(1) capable of sustained flight in the atmosphere; (2) flown within the visual line of sight of the person operating the aircraft; and (3) flown for hobby or recreational purposes.”  FMRA, § 336(d). 
 
With regard to FMRA’s second factor, the requirement that the model aircraft stay within the “visual line of sight” of the user, FAA interprets that requirement consistent with FMRA, § 336(c)(2) to mean that: (1) the aircraft must be visible at all times to the operator; (2) that the operator must use his or her own natural vision (including corrective lenses) and not goggles or other vision enhancing devices; and (3) people other than the operator may not be used to maintain the line of sight.  In other words, to maintain the identity as a “model aircraft,” the aircraft cannot be “remotely controlled” from a location other than that at which it is being flown.

The third factor, the definition of what constitutes “hobby or recreational use” is perhaps the thornier. 
 


Continue Reading FAA Weighs in on the Regulation of “Model Aircraft”

On August 21, 2012, in a highly unusual disagreement with a rulemaking action by a Federal agency, the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals sent the Environmental Protection Agency’s (“EPA”) Cross-State Air Pollution, or Transport, Rule, governing sulfur dioxide (“SO2”) and oxides of nitrogen (“NOx”) emissions, back to the agency with firm instructions to try again, and, next time, do a better job.  What makes this decision somewhat unusual is that cross-state rules had previously been implemented by EPA for PM2.5 and ozone, and upheld by the D.C. Circuit, see, e.g., Michigan v. EPA, 213 F.3d 663 (D.C. Cir. 2000) and North Carolina v. EPA, 531 F.3d 896 (D.C. Cir. 2008). 

In its decision in EME Homer City Generating, L.P., et al. v. EPA, et al., Case No. 11-1302, the D.C. Circuit took strong issue with EPA’s attempt to meet its responsibility under Clean Air Act § 110(a)(2)(D)(i)(I), 49 U.S.C. § 7410(a)(2)(D).  That section, the “good neighbor” provision, requires, in pertinent part, that, after EPA sets National Ambient Air Quality Standards (“NAAQS”), 42 U.S.C. § 7409, and designates areas within each state which exceed the NAAQS, 42 U.S.C. § 7407(d), or “nonattainment” areas, states must develop a state implementation plan (“SIP”), 42 U.S.C. § 7410, which includes provisions prohibiting any emissions source or activity “which will – contribute significantly to nonattainment in, or interfere with maintenance by, any other state with respect to any such national primary or secondary ambient air quality standard.”  The D.C. Circuit found major legal flaws in EPA’s Transport Rule. 
 


Continue Reading The D.C. Circuit Vacates EPA’s Cross-State Air Pollution Rule

In a surprising climax to the long controversy concerning helicopter flights and attendant noise impacts on the North Shore communities of New York’s Suffolk County, the FAA, on July 6, issued a “Final Rule,” making mandatory the current voluntary flight path for helicopters one mile offshore, but allowing the “Final Rule” to sunset on August 6, 2014, two years from the effective date, “unless the FAA determines a permanent rule is merited.”  The route commences 20 miles northeast of LaGuardia, near Huntington, New York, and remains approximately one mile offshore until reaching Orient Point, near the eastern end of Long Island, with deviations allowed for safety reasons, and to allow helicopters to transit over land to reach their ultimate destinations. 

The FAA discloses that its decision to promulgate the original voluntary rule arose from the numerous complaints of noise from helicopter overflights brought to its attention by Senator Charles Schumer of New York and Representative Tim Bishop of Long Island’s North Shore in October, 2007.  The subsequent mandatory rule apparently resulted from continued political pressure by residents who are “unbearably and negatively” impacted, particularly during the summer months when the number of helicopters, as well as deviations from the voluntary routing, seem to increase dramatically.  The real surprises in the “Final Rule,” however, are FAA’s rationale for: (1) making the route mandatory, a rationale which seems to apply equally to currently voluntarily procedures at other airports; and (2) the Rule’s sunset provision. 
 


Continue Reading FAA Issues Temporary “Final Rule” for the New York North Shore Helicopter Route

After all of the debate was over, both on the Senate floor and in the press, it boiled down to a party line vote – again, with six Democrats crossing over to vote for the other side. As Jim Abrams of The Associated Press reported:

The defeated resolution would have denied the Environmental Protection Agency the authority to move ahead with [its] rules [requiring permits for greenhouse gas emissions (“the tailoring rule”)], crafted under the federal Clean Air Act. With President Barack Obama’s broader clean energy legislation struggling to gain a foothold in the Senate, the vote took on greater significance as a signal of where lawmakers stand on dealing with climate change.
 


Continue Reading Senate Narrowly Turns Down Sen. Murkowski’s (R-AK) Attempt to Overrule EPA’s Greenhouse Gas Rules

On June 3, 2010, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency [EPA] issued a final rule establishing lowered standards for acceptable levels of sulfur-dioxide [SO2] emissions. The new rule also changes the monitoring requirements for SO2. SO2 is one of six criteria pollutants which Federal agencies must evaluate under the EPA’s General Conformity Rule, to determine whether emissions from a proposed project would conform to an approved CAA implementation plan. If a conformity analysis and determination indicate that a proposed Federal project would not conform to an applicable implementation plan, the project cannot be funded, licensed, permitted or approved.
Continue Reading EPA Sets New Standards for Sulfur-Dioxide (SO2) Emissions and Monitoring

The United States Department of Transportation has finally taken a step the United States Congress refused to take: it has enacted an Airline Consumer Protection Rule that, among other things: (1) limits to three hours the amount of time passengers at large and medium hub airports must spend on a delayed aircraft without deplaning (with