|Action||Take-Off and Landing Unmanned Aircraft on Land Owned by a Political Subdivision or Locality|
|Comment Period||Ends 10/13/2021|
Take-Off and Landing Unmanned Aircraft on Land Owned
by a Political Subdivision or Locality of the Commonwealth
August 27, 2021 Emergency Text
Comments of Wing Aviation LLC
Wing Aviation submits the following comments on the above-captioned rule, which is intended to implement HB 742, codified at Virginia Code 15.2-926.3, into Title 24 of the Virginia Administrative Code.
Wing commends Virginia for its work in positioning itself as an early leader in the promotion and adoption of emerging technologies such as drones, or unmanned aircraft systems (UAS). As a general matter, Wing encourages the Commonwealth to ensure that any local regulation promotes a vibrant and innovative UAS industry in the Commonwealth and supports access to the airspace for drone enthusiasts. We therefore request that DOAV actively embrace its role, as laid out in HB 742, of overseeing and reviewing any and all regulations put forward under this legislation by political subdivisions to ensure they do not cause undue burden to drone operations, avoid a complicated and burdensome patchwork of different rules between localities, and support ongoing UAS innovation in the Commonwealth. Absent rigorous DOAV oversight and guidance, a proliferation of harmful, confusing or poorly-written local regulations could stifle the development of the industry and jeopardize Virginia’s place as a leader in the development of autonomous technology.
Wing supports numerous provisions within the rule that specifically aim to further the goals stated above. Specifically, Wing strongly supports subsection 24VAC5-20-440(A)(1), which reinforces the right of commercial operators to operate in compliance with applicable Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) regulations, and subsection 24VAC5-20-440(B), which excludes the vehicular travel portions of public highways and streets from take-off and landing areas subject to political subdivision regulation.
Below please find comments and suggestions on specific provisions within the above-captioned rule.
24VAC5-20-410 Definitions for Part VIII
24VAC5-20-410 defines political subdivision to mean: "(i) a locality, (ii) a school division, or (iii) any park authority, jail authority or airport authority that has the power to enact or promulgate ordinances, or regulations having the force or effect of law.”
Wing believes this regulation should align its definition of ‘political subdivision’ with what currently exists in Virginia code, or simply be limited to counties, cities, and towns within the Commonwealth.
The current definition would grant numerous subdivisions within a county, city or town the authority to promulgate regulations dealing with limitations on UAS operations. These entities may not have the resources or expertise to develop UAS rules or conduct UAS risk assessments as described in the bill. This broad definition could lead to a complicated, inconsistent, or confusing patchwork of restrictions that would run counter to Virginia’s overarching principle of encouraging the growth of the drone industry and the safe integration of UAS into the airspace.
For this reason, the definition of political subdivision should be narrowed to localities (counties, cities and towns) or simply reference the existing definition of political subdivisions found at Code of Virginia, § 8.01-385 (3)(iii).
24VAC5-20-420 Political subdivision powers
Wing has concerns regarding language in subsection (C) of 24VAC5-200420, Political subdivision powers, which reads in part that a political subdivision:
“...may designate specific properties of increased concern for public safety or risk to natural resources where an operator seeking to use the property must show the purpose of the take-off and landing, what steps the operator will take to limit risk to the public or to natural resources, and information to demonstrate that the take-off and landing can be carried out safely. On such properties, the regulation may deny permission to take-off or land unmanned aircraft, unless the operator can demonstrate the safety of the take-off and landing, based on the information provided.”
Concerning the purpose of the take-off and landing, a commercial operator should not be required to provide such a showing. If a commercial operator is conducting its operations under the terms for which it has been approved by the FAA, the purpose of that operation itself should not have relevance to any risk to public safety or natural resources.
In addition, subsection (C) appears to grant political subdivisions the authority to make safety determinations about UAS operations. Operational safety is the exclusive purview of the FAA, which has the requisite expertise to properly assess risks and mitigations from a safety perspective. Overlapping and/or contradictory safety requirements could pose a safety challenge, and inhibit UAS innovation and operations in the Commonwealth. In addition, operational risk assessments may be highly complex, and applications/notifications are unlikely to be properly processed by a political subdivision.
For these reasons, Wing believes the language referencing political subdivisions making safety determinations should be eliminated or altered to acknowledge FAA’s role and curtail the role of political subdivisions in safety-based assessments.
Subsection (D) states: “For unmanned aircraft with a takeoff weight of 55 pounds or more, the regulations may require the operator to provide information prior to any take-off or landing, demonstrating the safety of the take-off and landing.”
As stated above, operational safety is the exclusive purview of the FAA, which has the requisite expertise to properly assess risks and mitigations from a safety perspective. Overlapping and/or contradictory safety requirements could pose a safety challenge, and inhibit UAS innovation and operations in the Commonwealth. In addition, operational risk assessments may be highly complex, and applications/notifications are unlikely to be properly processed by a political subdivision.
For these reasons, Wing believes subsection (D) should be eliminated or altered to acknowledge FAA’s role and curtail the role of political subdivisions in safety-based assessments.