Simply, Section 2209 requires the FAA to establish defined boundaries protecting “critical infrastructure” from unauthorized drones. In reality, it’s a complex problem. The FAA must define the sites which are prohibited to drones – possibly working with state and local governements to decide which places should be designated as “fixed site facilities.” From oil refineries to amusement parks, the Act also allows for “other locations that warrant such restrictions,” which leaves the category of fixed sites wide open to interpretation.
In the last week, two major coalitions have sent letter to FAA Chief Admistrator Steve Dickson, urging him to act on Section 2209 as quickly as possible. “The Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International (AUVSI), the Commercial Drone Alliance, the Consumer Technology Association, and the Small UAV Coalition are urging the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) to publish a proposed rule to establish a process to designate airspace above and around fixed-site critical infrastructure facilities,” writes AUVSI (copy of the letter available here.). The U.S. Chamber of Commerce group also published a letter to the FAA, signed by a significant list of drone and critical infrastructure stakeholders (see signatories and a copy of the letter here.)
Section 2209 is critical to the commercial drone industry, because without a system to define “fixed sites” at the federal level, states and local governments have stepped in to define their own critical sites as off limits to drones. Without definition at the federal level, drone operators may not have a central source of information that defines the sites and helps them to respect airspace restrictions. If sites are not defined at the federal level, drone operators have no efficient way of applying for an exception to the restrictions when required for public safety, emergency, or legitimate commercial applications.