Airlines’ Shrinking Seat Space May Increase Likelihood of Head Injuries

While the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has addressed protection from head injuries for flight attendants, according to a recent article, it has not addressed the impact of shrinking seat designs on the safety of passengers. A second article states that no seat in coach meets the FAA’s standards for the space required for flight attendant seat safety.

Graphic Sheds Light on Impact of Smaller Seats and Rows on Safety

Embedded in the regulations governing commercial airline safety is a graphic that may offer evidence that smaller seats and rows on airplanes may affect passengers’ safety. The DOT graphic shows the “head strike zone” for a seated flight attendant and is intended to offer guidance on seat design to reduce the risk of injury to flight attendants during takeoff and landing but apparently a similar analysis has not been undertaken as to passengers.

The head strike zone is the space that must be kept clear so that the occupant’s head avoids contact with an adjacent seat in the event of an impact. The graphic suggests that shortening the distance between passenger seat rows may have increased the likelihood of a passenger suffering head trauma from the seat in front.

Lawsuit Seeks FAA Rules on Minimum Seat and Aisle Sizes

FlyersRights.Org filed a petition for rulemaking requesting that the FAA set rules on minimum seat and aisle sizes. In its petition, FlyersRights.org documented that economy class seat pitch, that is the distance between a point on one seat and the same point on the seat in front of it has shrunk from an average of 35 inches to 31 inches and in some airplanes, 28 inches. Among other things, FlyersRights.Org argues that passengers may not be able to evacuate quickly in a crash due to the cramped seating. Another concern is the risk of passengers developing potentially dangerous blood clots in their legs.

The FAA declined to draw up regulations on seat size, arguing that its rulemaking authority does not extend to comfort – and that safety tests indicate the smaller seats pose no danger. The FAA also maintains that flight attendants and passengers have the same injury protection regulations.

FlyersRights.Org filed a petition for review with the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia, challenging the FAA’s refusal to engage in rulemaking and its unsupported conclusions about passenger seat safety. In recent opinion, the Court ordered the FAA to reexamine whether shrinking seats have safety consequences and to provide scientific evidence as to why narrower aisles and tighter seats are not safety issues.

This post was written by Bruce H. Stern of STARK & STARK, COPYRIGHT © 2017
For more legal analysis go to The National Law Review

Steer Clear from Military Bases if You Want to Keep Your Drone (and Yourself) Out of Trouble

There has been a growing security concern posed by drones, especially in light of increased use by both private citizens and companies. With the aim of keeping personnel and equipment safe in connection with its domestic military bases, the Pentagon recently issued classified rules that provide guidance to the U.S. military on how to deal with private and commercial drones that are found flying over or around its domestic military bases.

During the drafting process of the rules, the Pentagon consulted with the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) to determine how best to deal with drones. Although the specifics of the rules are classified, the rules generally allow for a variety of different responses to drones including tracking, disabling, and destroying the drones. The response may depend on the circumstances as well as the installation the drone is spotted near (i.e. the drones may even be seized afterwards for use in subsequent investigations). Further, the military already has several options in place such as using traditional ammunition to disable or destroy the drones as well as relying on radio waves to commandeer the drones from their operators.

However, the drones may not be the only things targeted if found operating near military bases. Back in April of this year, the Pentagon and the FAA announced a rule that prohibited drone flights near various domestic military bases. Although the previous rule regarding drones did not indicate that the drones would be specifically targeted by the military, it did state that pilots caught violating the restriction would be subject to arrest. The Pentagon has indicated that it will support civilian law enforcement investigations and the prosecution of unauthorized drone operations over military installations. Violators could potentially face fines or jail time.

For reference, a map can be found on the FAA website that provides information for the general public regarding areas and altitudes where drones can be operated safely. The map also highlights the various restricted airspace in connection with the domestic military bases.

This post was written by Thomas Nguyen of Polsinelli LLP in California © Polsinelli PC

For more legal analysis go to The National Law Review

Congress to Vote on Short-Term FAA Reauthorization This Week

Congress FAA reauthorizationThis week, Congress will vote on a short-term Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) authorization that will reauthorize FAA programs through September 30, 2017. The short-term authorization includes some policy changes, but avoids many significant changes the House and Senate had been pursuing. While the Senate passed a long-term FAA reauthorization bill this year, the FAA Reauthorization Act of 2016 (S. 2658), the House did not take up the bill reported out of the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, the Aviation Innovation, Reform, and Reauthorization (AIRR) Act of 2016 (H.R. 4441). Both the House and Senate are expected to pass the highly-negotiated short-term extension, before FAA authorization expires on July 15.

The short-term extension does include provisions related to safety and security, as well as some unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) provisions. Among the policy changes, the bill will increase funding for bomb-sniffing dog teams, direct FAA to detect and mitigate UAS operation near airports, and require airlines to refund baggage fees if luggage is delayed or lost, among other provisions.

It appears that House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Chairman Bill Shuster (R-PA) successfully kept many policy changes out of the short-term extension, in order to keep pressure up on Congress to pass a long-term extension next year that includes Chairman Shuster’s controversial air traffic control reform proposal.

This Week’s Hearings:

  • On Tuesday, July 12, the Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Subcommittee on Surface Transportation and Merchant Marine Infrastructure, Safety, and Security will hold a hearing titled “Intermodal and Interdependent: The FAST Act, the Economy, and Our Nation’s Transportation System.” The witnesses will be:

    • Patrick J. Ottensmeyer, Chief Executive Officer, Kansas City Southern Railway Company;

    • Major Jay Thompson, Arkansas Highway Police; President, Commercial Vehicle Safety Alliance;

    • David Eggermann, Supply Chain Manager, BASF; and

    • Stephen J. Gardner, Executive Vice President and Chief of NEC Business Development, Amtrak.

  • On Wednesday, July 13, the Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Subcommittee on Space, Science, and Competitiveness will hold a hearing titled “NASA at a Crossroads: Reasserting American Leadership in Space Exploration.” The witnesses will be:

    • William H. Gerstenmaier, Associate Administrator of Human Exploration and Operations, NASA;

    • Mary Lynne Dittmar, Executive Director, Coalition for Deep Space Exploration;

    • Mike Gold, Vice President of Washington Operations, SSL;

    • Mark Sirangelo, Vice President of Space Systems Group, Sierra Nevada Corporation; and

    • Professor Dan Dumbacher, Professor of Engineering Practice, Purdue University.

  • On Tuesday, July 12, the Senate Foreign Relations Subcommittee on Department and USAID Management, International Operations, and Bilateral International Development will hold a hearing titled “Public-Private Partnerships in Foreign Aid: Leveraging U.S. Assistance for Greater Impact and Sustainability.” The witnesses will be:

    • Eric G. Postel, Associate Administrator, U.S. Agency for International Development; and

    • Daniel F. Runde, William A. Schreyer Chair and Director, Project on Prosperity and Development, Center for Strategic and International Studies.

© Copyright 2016 Squire Patton Boggs (US) LLP

FAA Rules for Drones: The Waiting is the Hardest Part

drone operations

The May edition of “Unmanned Systems” magazine printed interviews with Earl Lawrence and Marke Gibson, two administrators at the Federal Aviation Administration who are focused on drone integration.  While the FAA currently authorizes commercial drone operations on a case-by-case basis, it is anticipated that a new rule will be finalized this year and will be comprehensive enough to fulfill the public desire for commercial drone operations.

Lawrence predicted that performance-based standards, rather than weight and speed classifications, may be used in the new rule because they provide a more effective response to safety risks posed by drones. Lawrence also believed the new drone rule will require a certification for commercial drone operators.

Gibson noted that testing has revealed drone pilots are able to see other aircraft approaching at a distance of two and one half miles in daylight hours, more than the one mile estimated for operations within visual line-of-sight.  Gibson found this, and other testing data, valuable as the FAA continues its rulemaking for drones.

At least until the new rule is passed, however, commercial operators must still follow the Section 333 exemption process.  Those that wish to operate drones for business purposes must convince the FAA to issue an exemption.  The FAA requires information like the intended use of the drone; its design and operational characteristics; and how its operation will be done safely.

Neither Lawrence nor Gibson told the magazine when the new rule would actually be rolled out by the FAA.  Last Friday at a drone seminar though, Gibson hinted that the new rule may be announced this summer.  Hopefully, the waiting, not the rule itself, is the hardest part.

ARTICLE BY Jeffrey K. Phillips
© Steptoe & Johnson PLLC. All Rights Reserved.

Night Moves: FAA Makes Front Page News With Drone Exemption

On April 18, 2016, the FAA approved, for the first time ever, nighttime operation of a small unmanned aircraft system (UAS or “drone”) when used for commercial activity.  The FAA permitted Industrial Skyworks, Inc. to use drones to inspect buildings at night.

In order to get the exemption, the FAA required the following of Industrial Skyworks:

  • The pilot in command had to possess a commercial or private pilot certification that allowed night operations;

  • The pilot needed a medical certificate per 14 C.F.R. part 67; and

  • The drone had to remain in the pilot’s and visual observer’s line of sight at all times.

Industrial Skyworks bolstered its case by taking these steps to ensure the drone’s safe operation at night.

  • It would be launched from an illuminated landing and take-off area and equipped to continually alert the pilot of its location and altitude.

  • It possessed anti-collision lights visible from 5,000 feet.

  • The site of the preprogrammed flight was limited in size, and the area was restricted to authorized personnel.

  • The pilots completed a training program that included nighttime operating skills and experience.

  • The company created a comprehensive security plan, including a provision that the pilot in command and visual observer would arrive at the work site 30 minutes prior to flight to ensure their eyes adjusted to the darkness.

© Steptoe & Johnson PLLC. All Rights Reserved.

FAA and OSHA Enter into Agreement to Strengthen Enforcement of AIR21 Whistleblower Protection Law

The FAA and OSHA have entered into a Memorandum of Understanding to facilitate coordination and cooperation concerning enforcement of the AIR21 whistleblower protection law.

The DOL and FAA both play a critical role in enforcing the whistleblower protection provision of AIR21. FAA has responsibility to investigate complaints related to air carrier safety and has authority under the FAA’s statute to enforce air safety regulations and issue sanctions to airmen and air carriers for noncompliance with these regulations. FAA enforcement action may include air carrier and/or airman certificate suspension and/or revocation and/or the imposition of civil penalties. Additionally, FAA may issue civil penalties for violations of 49 U.S.C. § 42121. OSHA has the responsibility to investigate employee complaints of discrimination and may order a violator to take affirmative action to abate the violation, reinstate the complainant to his or her former position with back pay, and award compensatory damages, including attorney fees.

Under the MOU, OSHA will promptly notify FAA of any AIR21 whistleblower retaliation complaints and will provide the FAA with all investigative findings and preliminary orders, investigation reports, and orders associated with any hearing or administrative appeal related to the complaint. And when a whistleblower notifies the FAA of retaliation involving air carrier safety, the FAA will promptly provide OSHA with a copy of the complaint and will advise the whistleblower that an AIR21 complaint must be filed with OSHA within 90 days of the retaliation. And the FAA will provide OSHA with the general results of any investigation conducted, to include whether or not FAA concluded there was a violation of a federal regulation, order, or standard relating to air carrier safety.

ARTICLE BY Jason Zuckerman of Zuckerman Law

That Drone in Your Holiday Stocking Must Now Be Registered With FAA

Fearing for public safety over the explosion of hobby-type drones taking to the air, on December 14, 2015, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) issued the first rule1 of its kind directed squarely to owners and operators of hobby and recreational small unmanned aircraft systems (sUAS aka drones) that now requires their registration on the FAA’s new online drone registration portal.2 A second, more comprehensive drone rule is expected to issue in 2016 to allow the use of drones for certain commercial purposes where the risk to public safety is low.

In the meantime, the hobby drone rule, which goes into effect on December 21, 2015 ahead of the holiday rush, requires all hobby-type drones weighing between 0.55 pounds (about two sticks of butter) and 55 pounds that have flown prior to December 21, 2015 to be registered no later than February 19, 2016.3 For hobby drones in this weight class flying for the first time on or after December 21, 2015 (i.e. holiday stocking stuffers), the rule requires that the owner register the drone before the first flight.

The FAA structured the grace period to encourage registration of millions of pre-existing drones while also requiring that all new drones be registered before first flight. To further encourage registration, the $5.00 registration fee will be credited back to registrants if they register within the first 30 days. And to lessen the burden of registration, the rule provides that a single registration applies to as many drones as an owner/operator owns or operates. If these incentives are insufficient to prompt compliance, the rule provides civil penalties up to $27,500, and criminal penalties including fines up to $250,000 and/or imprisonment for up to three years.

U.S. citizens age 13 or older can register their drones at the FAA’s registration portal. The registrant will need to provide the FAA with their name, physical address, mailing address (if different) and email address. Upon completion of the registration process, the FAA will provide the registrant (or certificate holder, as the FAA calls them) with a unique registration number that must be affixed to each drone.4 In addition, each registration must be renewed every 3 years and will require an additional $5.00 renewal fee.

After the rule goes into effect on December 21, 2015, all operators of hobby drones falling within the weight limits of the rule must provide proof of registration in the form of a Certificate of Aircraft Registration, either in printed or electronic form—much the same way as an angler or a hunter currently provides proof of a state fishing license or a state hunting license to a game warden.5

A number of exceptions to the rule are worth mentioning. First, hobby drones that weigh less than 0.55 pounds (i.e. radio-controlled micro quadcopters that fit in the palm of your hand) do not require registration.6 The rule will not apply to drones flown solely indoors. The rule also does not apply to those who want to fly drones for commercial purposes (i.e. for pay and/or hire) or on behalf of a state or federal government agency (i.e. fire departments, police departments, etc.). Such operators must first obtain an exemption of the FAA’s rules applicable to, for example, passenger-carrying aircraft, that the FAA has interpreted as also being applicable to commercial operators of unmanned drones regardless of size and weight. In addition, any types of entities other than individual hobbyists—such as corporations, or anyone wanting to record a lease or security interest—cannot use the online registration portal.

The new rule is the first concrete step that the FAA has taken in response to Congress’ mandate to the FAA under Section 333 of the FAA Modernization and Reform Act of 2012 to integrate unmanned aircraft into the National Airspace System (NAS). The next big step will be the FAA’s issuance in 2016 of rules that provide a legal path for using drones for commercial purposes without having to obtain prior FAA approval. Those rules will likely have a sweeping impact on business owners of all types who want to buy and sell aerial imaging and/or aerial data transmission services, including large-scale land developers, shopping mall operators and owners of other large structures, real estate agents, wedding photographers, and live TV/radio broadcast providers, to name a few, as well as industries that support those businesses, including software and hardware component suppliers, venture capital and financing providers, accountants, and the like.

In the interim, the new rule will force a dramatic change in the way consumers think about small radio-controlled unmanned aircraft in the future—they’re not just toys anymore.


1 See FAA Interim Final Rule (IFR) available at: https://www.faa.gov/news/updates/media/20151213_IFR.pdf
2 The FAA’s drone registration portal is available at: https://www.faa.gov/uas/registration/
3 Model radio-controlled aircraft of all types, including the type of fixed wing, radio-controlled model aircraft that have flown in parks and fields for decades, fall under the new rule.
4 The unique registration number may be affixed via permanent marker, label, engraving or other means as long as the number is readily accessible and readable upon close visual inspection.
5 Although it is unlikely that the FAA will have the manpower to enforce the new rule against hobbyists who do not register their drones, the FAA nevertheless intends to employ a strategic approach to encourage compliance ranging from outreach and education programs to administrative and/or legal action should the facts of a case so warrant.
6 According to the FAA, most toy drones costing $100 or less will likely weigh less than 0.55 pounds (250 grams).