Senator Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.), serving as the Chair of the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation, joined forces with Ranking Member Ted Cruz (R-Texas), Aviation Subcommittee Chair Tammy Duckworth (D-Ill.), and Subcommittee Ranking Member Jerry Moran (R-Kan.) to introduce S. 1939, also known as the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) Reauthorization Act of 2023.

According to the press release, this crucial legislation aims to uphold the United States’ commitment to safe, reliable, and resilient air travel. By implementing stronger consumer protections for passengers, advancing research in aviation innovation, and modernizing the national airspace system, the act seeks to ensure that the nation maintains its gold standard in aviation safety for many years to come.

Tucked within the Act are some items relevant to the airspace awareness and protection industry that require further attention, including the authority for the FAA to fine for violations of the use of C-UAS detection and mitigation equipment that impact the safety of the national airspace.

Section 811- Unmanned Aircraft System Detection and Mitigation Enforcement Authority

Section 811 of the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) Reauthorization Act of 2023,  amends Chapter 448 of Title 49, United States Code, and adds §44813- Unmanned aircraft system detection and mitigation enforcement. This section states that “No person may operate a system or technology to detect, identify, monitor, track, or mitigate an unmanned aircraft or unmanned aircraft system in a manner that adversely impacts or interferes with safe airport operations, navigation, or air traffic services, or the safe and efficient operation of the national airspace system.”

The bill further states that “A person who operates a system or technology in violation of subsection (a)(1) is liable to the Federal Government for a civil penalty of not more than $25,000 per violation.

A “person” as defined in the bill does not include:

  • the Federal Government or any bureau, department, instrumentality, or other agency of the Federal Government
  • an officer, employee, or contractor of the Federal Government or any bureau, department, instrumentality, or other agency of the Federal Government if the officer, employee, or contractor is authorized by the Federal Government or any bureau, department, instrumentality, or other agency of the Federal Government to operate a system or technology referred to in subsection (a)(1)

What does this mean? This section of the bill authorizes the FAA to impose significant fines on a person who, without authority, uses a drone detection and/or mitigation system in a manner that impacts the safe and efficient operation of the national airspace.

This bill language, if eventually signed into law, highlights the importance of adhering to current rules and regulations regarding the acquisition and use of drone detection and mitigation technology. Only the four federal agencies, the Departments of Justice (DOJ), Homeland Security (DHS), Energy, and Defense, have the authority to use drone detection and mitigation technologies that would otherwise violate federal laws.

In August 2020, various federal agencies collaborated to create an advisory to provide guidance to assist public and private entities who need and are interested in using technical tools to detect and mitigate drones. The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), DOJ, DHS, and the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) issued an advisory titled, “Advisory on the Application of Federal Laws to the Acquisition and Use of Technology to Detect and Mitigate Unmanned Aircraft Systems.”

The advisory is targeted toward entities, such as law enforcement and critical infrastructure that do not have existing statutory relief from provisions of Title 18 and Title 49, such as those granted to DHS, DOJ, the Department of Defense (DoD), and the Department of Energy (DoE).

Section 814- Authority Regarding Protection of Certain Facilities and Assets from Unmanned Aircraft

In 2018, The FAA Reauthorization Act of 2018 was passed by Congress and signed into law. The FAA Reauthorization Act included Division H, also known as the “Preventing Emerging Threats Act of 2018.”  This portion of the FAA Reauthorization Act provided statutory relief for DOJ and DHS to engage in Counter-UAS activities that would otherwise violate relevant provisions of federal law.

The authorities for DHS and DOJ expired on October 5, 2022. The authorities were extended temporarily with continuing resolutions until President Biden signed an almost $1.7 trillion government spending package at the end of December 2022. According to Section 547 of the bill signed by the President, “Section 210G(i) of the Homeland Security Act of 2002 (6 U.S.C. 124n(i)) shall be applied by substituting ‘September 30, 2023’ for “the date that is 4 years after the date of enactment of this section.” The previous legislation was enacted on October 6, 2018.

Section 814 of the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) Reauthorization Act of 2023 extends the authorities of DOJ and DHS through September 30, 2026. The specific language states, “Section 547 of title V of division F of the Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2023 (Public Law 117–328) is amended by striking ‘September 30, 2023’ and inserting ‘September 30, 2026.'”

The Act simply extends the Counter-UAS authority of DOJ and DHS for three more years. The bill’s current version does not mention the expansion of Counter-UAS authorities, such as those described in the Safeguarding the Homeland from the Threats Posed by Unmanned Aircraft Systems Act of 2023, a bill introduced in the Senate last month.

The House version of the FAA Reauthorization bill, known as the Securing Growth and Robust Leadership in American Aviation Act, also released recently, did not address topics such as those documented in Sections 811 (C-UAS Violations) and 814 (Extension of DOJ and DHS Authorities) of the Senate version.

A summary of Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) Reauthorization Act of 2023 on C-UAS Hub can be found at Senate Bill- FAA Reauthorization Act of 2023. The text of the bill is attached below. Section 811 can be found on page 399. Section 814 can be found on page 817.

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Post Image-The Orville Wright Federal Building in Washington, DC. (Image Credit: Adobe Stock by MJ Kerr)