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FAA’s New Proposed Rule May Revolutionize Pipeline Industry

On Feb. 15, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) released its long-awaited notice of proposed rules with respect to unmanned aircraft systems (UAS). Once finalized, the proposed rules will replace the current almost-universal ban on flying UAS for commercial purposes with a protocol for authorizing operations for commercial flights of small UAS weighing up to 55 pounds.

The new rules do place restrictions on UAS flights to ensure the continued safety of the national airspace. It limits unmanned flights to daylight and visual-line-of-sight operations in addition to addressing height restrictions, operator certification, optional use of a visual observer, aircraft registration and marking, and operational limits.

Civil UAS provide benefits to businesses because they are able to complete tasks that may be too dangerous, expensive, or time consuming when using other methods. Drones have been proven effective in the oil and gas industry, specifically in pipeline inspection where they were put to use monitoring Alaskan pipelines in June 2014 with special approval of the FAA. Since then, other companies have sought similar approval with varying levels of success. The new rules will allow all companies to integrate UAS technology into their businesses without the FAA’s express authorization as long as they comply with its restrictions. This will allow companies to use UAS for visual monitoring tasks like inspecting long stretches of remote pipelines, monitoring and responding to spills, and monitoring oil rig flare stacks.

There will be a 60-day public comment window on the new regulation after it is published. This is an ideal opportunity for businesses to offer input that will shape the future of UAS regulation. For example, the FAA has explicitly invited comments on the visual-line-of-sight requirement included in the notice of proposed rulemaking. As it stands, this requirement puts a damper on the effectiveness of UAS while inspecting more remote or inaccessible portions of a pipeline. The current unmanned aircraft rules will remain effective until the new rule is implemented sometime after the public comment period has closed. 

© 2020 BARNES & THORNBURG LLPNational Law Review, Volume V, Number 48


About this Author

Connie Lahn, Barnes Thornburg Law Firm, Minneapolis, Corporate and Litigation Law Attorney

Connie A. Lahn is the managing partner of the Minneapolis office of Barnes & Thornburg. She is a member of the Finance, Insolvency and Restructuring Department and co-chairs the Asset Revitalization Practice Group. Ms. Lahn is also the co-chair of the firm’s Special Servicer Team. She also serves on the firm's diversity and inclusion committee. Ms. Lahn focuses her practice on bankruptcy law, workouts, equipment leasing issues, foreclosures, real estate remedies, commercial mortgage-backed securities defaults, and related commercial litigation. Additionally, she...

Jeffrey Longsworth, Barnes Thornburg Law Frim, Washington DC, Environmental Law Attorney

Jeffrey S. Longsworth is a partner in the Washington, D.C. office of Barnes & Thornburg LLP and the D.C. administrator of the Environmental Department, which was recently recognized as Tier 1 for national environmental litigation in the annual "Best Law Firms" ranking by U.S. News and Best Lawyers. He is involved in counseling and litigating issues that arise under federal environmental laws and regulations, with an emphasis on Clean Water Act matters, especially issues involving permitting, stormwater, effluent limitations guidelines, enforcement, inspections and spill prevention.

Mr. Longsworth was appointed to the EPA Federal Advisory Committee on Urban Wet Weather Flows, which was established in 1996. He frequently teaches environmental law courses around the country, and serves as editorial advisor to several industry publications. He has served on the Montgomery County (Maryland) Water Quality Advisory Board.

Mr. Longsworth serves as special environmental counsel to numerous national trade associations, industries, coalitions and state/municipal government agencies before federal and state regulatory and enforcement authorities. He works closely within the federal rulemaking process with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Small Business Administration, and White House Office of Management and Budget, to name a few. Mr. Longsworth also works closely with many state regulatory agencies and advises clients and the firm’s legislative team on environmental issues arising under federal legislation.

Mr. Longsworth graduated from Amherst College in 1984 and received his J.D. in 1991 from the Catholic University of America Columbus School of Law, where he served as a member of the Law Review.

Mr. Longsworth is admitted to practice in the State of Maryland, the District of Columbia, and the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 4th, 7th, and 9th Circuits.

Clifford G. Maine, Barnes Thornburg Law Firm, Grand Rapids, Corporate Law Attorney

Clifford G. Maine is chairman of the firm’s Aviation Law Group. Mr. Maine's practice encompasses a wide variety of aviation law practice areas. He serves as general counsel to numerous aviation organizations, including the Southwest Michigan Regional Airport Authority.

Mr. Maine’s aviation clients include some of the largest corporate flight departments in the world. He has structured numerous aviation transactions, including domestic and foreign-based aircraft purchase and sale transactions, like-kind exchanges, timeshare agreements,...