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FAA Issues Drone Guidance for COVID-19 Response

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by Patrick Paul

As the case for drone use to help respond to the coronavirus pandemic, whether to enforce social distancing guidelines, announce current developments, or deliver needed medical and food supplies, grows internationally, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) on April 14, 2020, announced the enabling of drone use for COVID-19 response efforts within the confines of its existing regulations and emergency procedures.

The FAA’s small unmanned aircraft rule (Part 107) and Certificate of Authorization process allows drone operators to transport goods and certain medical supplies, including test kits, provided the drone flight complies with all provisions of Part 107 or the Certificate. The agency also issues special approvals, for flights that support emergency activities and appropriate government, health, or community initiatives.

In making the announcement, the FAA also stated that its Systems Operations Support Center is available 24/7 to process emergency requests and continued to reiterate that safety is the agency’s top consideration in reviewing such requests. As previously reported by this law firm (Drone Deployment to Combat COVID-19, Drone Delivery Systems Can Aid Coronavirous Relief, and COVID-19 Drones to the Rescue: an Opportunity to Shine), drones have been employed in a myriad of ways throughout the world in response to the COVID-19 crisis. Some drone operators have been frustrated at the pace of regulatory approval for emergency drone flight. The FAA’s recent announcement reaffirms its commitment to safety while clarifying that much of its existing regulatory structure can be utilized by drone operators to assist during the pandemic. It’s a step in the right direction and an exciting one for drone operators seeking to lend a hand.