The Dayton Business Journal provides a short review of the language in the new FAA Reauthorization and Reform Act of 2011 that would lead to official FAA Unmanned Aerial Vehicle regulations and classifications, along with official test sites in Dayton. You can have fun with the text of the legislation from the Library of Congress, here. The section on unmanned aircraft is brief, but a few key points should be noted.
- Aircraft are classified as public ('...an unmanned aircraft system that meets the qualifications and conditions required for operation of a public aircraft...') or small ('...an unmanned aircraft weighing less than 55 pounds...')
- The FAA will make the determination "...which types of unmanned aircraft systems, if any, as a result of their size, weight, speed, operational capability, proximity to airports and population areas, and operation within visual line-of-sight do not create a hazard to users of the national airspace system or the public or pose a threat to national security..."
- That the determination of these aircraft types is to occur within 180 days from the enactment of the Act
- The FAA has 270 days from the time of approval of the Act to issue a plan for developing regulations
- The plan must be in effect by September 30, 2015.
In summary, it looks like we might get a word on regulations of particular size, weight, range classes of aircraft this summer, but that the full regulatory system is still years away. I think that the language I highlighted in the second bullet is particularly important, it tells us that determinations are going to made based on whether the craft poses a threat to users of the national airspace and to national security. Arguably, working with small, light-weight aircraft (< 4 lbs) at altitudes below the national airspace (< 400 ft) will make sure that our research stays within the safezone.
As a side note, I think there is also some language in the Act about the popular passenger bill of rights, but I didn't take the time to look!
UPDATE: The AMA just sent out a post about this as well: