The FAA Reauthorization Act of 2018 (H.R. 302)

Highlights of the sections which impact Unmanned Aircraft Systems

On October 5, 2018 Congress passed the FAA reauthorization act which is a comprehensive bill that establishes rules and funding for the FAA for the next 5 years. 


Included in this bill are provisions which impact unmanned aircraft.  Some of these provisions introduce significant changes for UAS and lay out a plan to implement new technologies and rules. This bill is 462 pages long. This summary encompasses pages 99-138. This document highlights those portions which are likely to be of interest to recreational, commercial and public operators of UAS.

Rules Governing the Recreational Use of Drones Formalized

Within 180 days of singing this legislation being signed (April 5, 2019), the FAA will be establishing a knowledge exam for recreational pilots.  Recreational pilots will require prior authorization when flying in controlled airspace.  Recreational drone pilots will be impacted by rule changes which codify what were previously described as safety guidelines.

The new rules cannot be immediately implemented therefor ether FAA has advised that recreational pilots adhere to previously published guidelines. The items listed below should be familiar recreational drone pilots. The new rules will make it easier for the FAA to enforce violations. 

  • Fly for hobby or recreation only
  • Register your model aircraft
  • Fly within visual line-of-sight
  • Follow community-based safety guidelines and fly within the programming of a nationwide community-based organization
  • Fly a drone under 55 lbs. unless certified by a community-based organization
  • Never fly near other aircraft
  • Never fly near emergency response efforts


Under the new rules, recreational users must register each unmanned aircraft individually. Previously, recreational users registered themselves, were issued a single ID number which they applied to all aircraft. 

Air Traffic Control and Drones

One of the most rapidly developing technologies that will impact drones is UTM, Unmanned Traffic Management.  A serious concern with the proliferation of drones is the possibility of a midair collision.  Drones are not detected by radar and air traffic control facilities have no way of knowing where drones are in relation to manned aircraft.  NASA has been conducting research over the last few years to develop an effective UTM system that will mitigate and deconflict unmanned air traffic and manned air traffic.  Once implemented, drone operators could be required to broadcast their location. The system is expected to help manage air traffic and integrate unmanned aircraft into the national airspace. This system could facilitate drone delivery services and flights beyond line of sight, which are currently restricted.

The portions of the bill which are most relevant to drone pilots are listed below. This is not a comprehensive list. For the full text please download H.R. 302 here:

Summary of H.R. 302

Section 341. Definitions; integration of civil unmanned aircraft systems into national airspace system. This section codifies definitions related to unmanned aircraft systems (UAS). Additionally, this section would update and codify current law regarding the integration of UAS into the national airspace system (NAS).

Section 345. Small unmanned aircraft safety standards. This section directs the FAA to establish a process to accept risk-based, consensus safety standards for small UAS and authorize the operation of small UAS designed, produced, or modified in accordance with these standards in lieu of the more cumbersome certification process used for the approval of other aircraft.

Section 346. Public unmanned aircraft systems. This section codifies existing authority to authorize public (i.e., governmental) aircraft operations. This section also directs the FAA to permit the use of public actively tethered UAS (governmental UAS physically attached to a ground station with a tether that provides the UAS with power) that operate within specific parameters.

Section 348. Carriage of property (by UAS) for compensation or hire. Section 348. Carriage of property by small unmanned aircraft systems for compensation or hire.  This section requires the FAA to update existing regulations authorizing carriage of property by operators of small UAS for compensation or hire within the United States not later than 1 year after the date of enactment. This section also authorizes the DOT to amend current regulations to establish economic authority for the carriage of property by small UAS for compensation or hire. Finally, this section states that, pending the update of regulations required by this section, a person may seek authority to carry property via a small UAS for compensation or hire using existing processes.

Section 349. Exception for limited recreational operations of unmanned aircraft. This section creates a framework for the operation of recreational aircraft including operating requirements, aeronautical knowledge testing, and the qualifications for community-based organizations that support recreational aircraft activities. This section also includes a process for FAA to periodically update operational parameters for recreational aircraft.

Section 350. Use of unmanned aircraft systems at institutions of higher education. This section permits UAS operated by an institution of higher education for educational or research purposes to fall under the definition of recreational purpose. The FAA is authorized to establish regulations, procedures, and standards, as necessary, to facilitate the safe operation of UAS by institutions of higher education.

Section 352. Part 107 transparency and technology improvements.  This section requires the FAA to publish information on approved small UAS waivers and airspace authorizations and to provide real time data on application status.

Section 353. Emergency exemption process. This section states the sense of Congress that the use of UAS by civil and public operators has become an increasingly important tool in response to a catastrophe, disaster or other emergency. It further directs the FAA to update and improve the Special Governmental Interest process to ensure that UAS operators, such as local law enforcement agencies and first responders, can continue to use UAS quickly and efficiently in response to a disaster or other emergency. This section also requires the FAA to develop best practices for the use of UAS by States and localities to respond in emergencies.

Section 363. Prohibition regarding weapons. This section establishes a civil penalty for operating an unmanned aircraft or unmanned aircraft system that is equipped or armed with a dangerous weapon.

Section 364. U.S. Counter-UAS system review of interagency coordination processes. This section requires the FAA, in consultation with government agencies authorized to operate counter-unmanned aircraft system (C-UAS) systems.

Section 366. Strategy for responding to public safety threats and enforcement utility of unmanned aircraft systems. This section requires the FAA to develop a strategy to provide outreach, including a publicly available resource website, to State and local governments and provide guidance for local law enforcement agencies with respect to how to identify and respond to safety threats posed by UAS and to share information about how UAS can be used to aid law enforcement.

Section 368. Public UAS access to special use airspace.  This section directs the DOT to issue guidance for the expedited and timely access to special use airspace for public UAS in order to assist Federal, State, local, or tribal law enforcement organizations in conducting law enforcement, emergency response, or for other activities.

Section 372. Enforcement.  This section directs the FAA to establish a five-year pilot program to utilize available remote detection or identification technologies for safety oversight, including enforcement actions against operators of UAS that are not in compliance with applicable Federal aviation laws, including regulations. This section also directs the FAA to establish and publicize a mechanism for the public and Federal, State, and local law enforcement to report suspected unlawful operations of UAS and requires annual reporting to Congress. Finally, this section adds Chapter 448, as added by this Act, to the civil penalty regime under title 49 of U.S. Code.

Section 376. Plan for full operational capability of unmanned aircraft systems traffic management.  This section directs the FAA, in consultation with other Federal agencies as appropriate, to develop a plan to allow for the implementation of UAS traffic management (UTM) services. As part of the implementation plan, this section directs the FAA to take specific actions, including developing safety standards to permit, authorize, or allow the use of UTM services and to outline the roles and responsibilities of industry and government in establishing UTM services.

Section 379. Commercial and governmental operators. This section requires the FAA to make available to the public, through a single location on the DOT’s website, information regarding government and commercial operators authorized to operate UAS in the NAS. The information reference above includes where the UAS is registered, summary descriptions of operations, and information on UAS that will collect personally identifiable information. This section includes a sunset provision.

Section 381. Unmanned aircraft systems in restricted buildings or grounds. This section amends section 1752 of title 18, U.S. Code, to establish criminal penalties for someone knowingly and willfully operating a UAS with the intent to knowingly and willfully direct or otherwise cause such UAS to enter or operate within or above a restricted building or grounds.

Section 382. Prohibition (Interference with public safety operations).  This section amends title 18, U.S. Code, to establish criminal penalties for someone who operates a UAS and knowingly or recklessly interferes with a wildfire suppression, or law enforcement or emergency response effort related to wildfire suppression.

Section 383. Airport safety and airspace hazard mitigation and enforcement.  This section directs the FAA to work with DOD, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS),
and other relevant federal departments and agencies to ensure that C-UAS technologies do not adversely impact or interfere with safe airport operations, navigation, air traffic services, or the safe and efficient operation of the NAS. This section also directs the FAA to develop a plan for the certification, permitting, authorizing, or allowing the deployment of C-UAS technologiesor systems.

Section 384. Unsafe operation of unmanned aircraft. This section amends title 18, U.S. Code, to make it a crime to knowingly or recklessly operate a UAS in a manner that interferes with or disrupts the operation of a manned aircraft or too close to a runway.


About Bill Bongle

Bill Bongle is a 29-year police veteran and technology consultant, rising to the rank of Captain before retiring from the Green Bay Police Department in 2015. In 2015 Bill started Titletown Drones LLC, a company which provides drone related training and equipment. He specializes in assisting public safety agencies establish their drone programs. Bill has developed several drone related training courses including part 107 test prep and flight training. Bill has trained hundreds of commercial drone pilots, police officers, firefighters and government officials across the nation.