A Job for Technically Competent Engineers and Regulators and Government Relations Lawyers
When Congress ordered the Federal Aviation Administration (“FAA”) to come up with a plan for the safe integration of aerial vehicles which do not have a pilot on board, variously referred to as unmanned aerial systems (“UAS”), remotely piloted systems (“RPS”) and drones, it was immediately obvious that the scientific, technical and engineering experts in the world of aviation would be busy, as well as the regulators at the FAA. What was not immediately obvious was the need for government relations departments at law firms to become involved in assisting both the designers, manufacturers and operators of UAS and the regulators attempting to draft regulations that would accomplish safe integration.
While safety was, and continues to be, the primary concern of the FAA and the focus of their efforts, many groups concerned with privacy immediately entered the fray and demanded that the FAA consider individual privacy rights when drafting such regulations. Governments at the federal, state and local level responded and drafted legislation that sought to protect privacy rights, as well as property rights of land owners from the perceived threats posed by UAS.
The FAA responded by entertaining proposals for six test sites where information would be gathered to help the FAA craft effective regulations for the safe integration of UAS into the national airspace. In Nevada a variety of groups, including Fennemore Craig, the three major research educational institutions and a variety of private companies active in the aviation industry all came together with the assistance of the Office of the Nevada Governor to make a single proposal for the entire State of Nevada and all of its interested stakeholders.
Attorneys at Fennemore Craig assisted in creating a public private partnership consisting of a non-profit corporation that would give all of the major research educational institutions and the private company stakeholders a way to work through one entity to accomplish the requirements of such a FAA designated test site. The State of Nevada was successful in being designated as one of these six FAA test sites for UAS testing. The not-for-profit entity, in addition to setting up the processes and procedures for the operation of the test site also joined with the Governor’s office to promote the industry and economic development opportunities in both Northern and Southern Nevada.
During the 2015 Nevada Legislative Session, Fennemore Craig, in conjunction with the broader UAS industry, worked with stakeholders and sponsor Assemblyman Elliot Anderson (D – Clark) on legislation to both authorize and provide regulatory structure for the use of drones in Nevada. This work included insuring that privacy legislation proposed at the state level did not unduly hamper the development of the UAS segment of the aviation industry in the State of Nevada while providing reasonable privacy protections to the citizens of the State of Nevada. That effort involved significant input from government relations lawyers representing both the Nevada non-profit and major industries that would have been unnecessarily burdened by overreaching legislation.
Further, the legislation ultimately provided the continued use of UAS by operators but struck a privacy balance for landowners, business and the public by prohibiting operation of drones over certain critical facilities and other private property interests. The competing interests were brought together to create legislation workable for all involved.
The bill that was passed in Nevada is an excellent example of how the moderating influence of government relations lawyers proactively working issues throughout the legislative process from bill drafting through final passage can effectively help all sides achieve their objectives.
By Richard Jost, director and Jim Wadhams, director, Fennemore Craig