This week the aviation industry saw a lot of activity in the legal arena that could have a significant impact on general and commercial aviation.
First, President Obama sent his budget proposal to Congress for 2015. In the proposed budget, the President is again seeking a $100 user fee for both commercial and general aviation flights in the National Airspace System. The congressional leadership kicked into gear immediately sending a strongly worded letter to the President indicating that this aspect of the budget proposal would not pass. Aviation advocacy groups such as EAA and AOPA issued statements condemning the proposal as the wrong way to fund the services provided by Air Traffic Control. Advocacy groups reiterated that the current system of collecting excise taxes on fuel purchases is an equitable way to extract proportionate tax revenue from users of the system based on demand. While Higa & Gipson will continue to monitor the user fee proposal, we encourage airmen and aviation business owners to reach out to their congressional representatives and unequivocally let them know that user fees are not the way to fund ATC services.
The second major development this week in aviation law pertains to the nascent commercial drone industry. The FAA has banned the operation of commercial drones in US airspace until it has time to implement rules for the safe integration of commercial drones into the National Airspace System. National Transportation Safety Board Administrative Law Judge Geraghty handed down a ruling that overturned a civil penalty imposed by the FAA against the operator of a drone on the basis that the FAA lacked the statutory mandate to impose the penalty for violation of policy guidance disseminated from the FAA and not from an official rule. While the technology industry lauds the ruling as a step towards advancing the cause of integrating drones into the NAS, it may be too early to open the celebratory champagne. Almost immediately, the FAA announced that it is appealing the decision to the full NTSB Board. If the result of this appeal is still considered to be unfavorable by the FAA, then the FAA can launch another appeal to the US Court of Appeals. Pending the appeals, Judge Geraghty’s ruling is stayed. Thus, the ban on commercial drone use in the US airspace will continue until the issue is resolved by the appellate process.
There are serious ramifications for the introduction of commercial drones into the NAS without thoughtful and measured scrutiny. For example, the appearance of a commercial drone into the flight path of a commercial jet while landing could cause the airliner to execute a missed approach, which would cost thousands of dollars in fuel costs for the extended flight time. Then there is the obvious danger in allowing commercial drones too much leeway for operations in the NAS due to the prospect of a mid-air collision with a general aviation or commercial airliner due to an absence of certified technology that can detect the other aircraft’s presence and provide collision avoidance guidance. These concerns all relate to the potential for significant loss of life and property damage and as such require that the FAA move forward with caution.Should you have questions about the user fees proposal or the National Airspace System, then contact Aviation Attorney Ronnie Gipson at firstname.lastname@example.org or by telephone at (415) 692-6520.