[Federal Register Volume 86, Number 97 (Friday, May 21, 2021)]
[Proposed Rules]
[Pages 27550-27551]
From the Federal Register Online via the Government Publishing Office [www.gpo.gov]
[FR Doc No: 2021-09807]



49 CFR Part 830

[Docket No.: NTSB-2021-0004]
RIN 3147-AA20

Amendment to the Definition of Unmanned Aircraft Accident

AGENCY: National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB).

ACTION: Notice of proposed rulemaking (NPRM).


SUMMARY: The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) proposes 
amending the definition of ``Unmanned aircraft accident'' by removing 
the weight-based requirement and replacing it with an airworthiness 
certificate or airworthiness approval requirement. The weight threshold 
is no longer an appropriate criterion because unmanned aircraft systems 
(UAS) under 300 lbs. are operating in high-risk environments, such as 
beyond line-of-sight and over populated areas. The proposed definition 
will allow the NTSB to be notified of and quickly respond to UAS events 
with safety significance.

DATES: Send comments on or before July 20, 2021.

ADDRESSES: You may send comments, identified by Docket Number (No.) 
NTSB-2021-0004, by any of the following methods:
     Federal e-Rulemaking Portal: http://www.regulations.gov.
     Email: [email protected].
     Fax: 202-314-6090.
     Mail/Hand Delivery/Courier: NTSB, Office of General 
Counsel, 490 L'Enfant Plaza East SW, Washington, DC 20594.
    Instructions: All submissions in response to this NPRM must include 
Docket No. NTSB-2021-0004. All comments received will be posted without 
change to http://www.regulations.gov, including any personal 
information provided.
    Docket: For access to the docket, go to http://www.regulations.gov 
and search Docket No. NTSB-2021-0004.

FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT: Kathleen Silbaugh, General Counsel, 
(202) 314-6080, [email protected].


I. Background

    The NTSB prescribes regulations governing the notification and 
reporting of accidents involving civil aircraft. As an independent 
federal agency charged with investigating and establishing the facts, 
circumstances, and probable cause of every civil aviation accident in 
the United States, the NTSB has an interest in redefining a UAS 
accident in light of recent developments in the industry.
    For NTSB purposes, ``unmanned aircraft accident'' means an 
occurrence associated with the operation of an unmanned aircraft that 
takes place between the time that the system is activated with the 
purpose of flight and the time that the system is deactivated at the 
conclusion of its mission, and in which any person suffers death or 
serious injury, or in which the aircraft has a maximum gross takeoff 
weight of 300 lbs. or greater and receives substantial damage.
    At the time this definition was contemplated, the weight-based 
requirement was necessary because defining an accident solely on 
``substantial damage'' would have required investigations of numerous 
small UAS crashes with no significant safety issues. See Final Rule, 75 
FR 51953, 51954 (Aug. 24, 2010). Consequently, there is no legal 
requirement to report or for the NTSB to investigate events involving 
substantial damage to UAS weighing less than 300 lbs. because these are 
not recognized ``unmanned aircraft accidents'' under the NTSB's 
regulations. While this definition ensured that the NTSB expended 
resources on UAS events involving the most significant risk to public 
safety, the advent of higher capability UAS applications--such as 
commercial drone delivery flights operating in a higher risk 
environment (e.g., populated areas, beyond line-of-sight operations, 
etc.)--has prompted the agency to propose an updated definition of 
``unmanned aircraft accident.'' Moreover, in the August 24, 2010, Final 
Rule, the NTSB anticipated future updates of the definition given the 
evolving nature of UAS technology and operations. Id.

[[Page 27551]]

II. Airworthiness Certification/Approval

    The NTSB believes that an updated definition is necessary given the 
changing UAS industry. Pursuant to section 44807 of the Federal 
Aviation Administration (FAA) Reauthorization Act of 2018 
(Reauthorization Act), the FAA has recently promulgated proposed 
rulemaking regarding UAS. Section 44807 directed the Department of 
Transportation to use a risk-based approach to determine if certain UAS 
may operate safely in the national airspace. A number of drone delivery 
operations, among other applications, have begun using: (1) FAA Special 
Airworthiness Certificates--Experimental, or (2) approvals under the 
exemption processes per section 44807 of the Reauthorization Act that 
allows the FAA to grant exemptions on an individual basis. As drone 
delivery and other applications develop, airworthiness certification 
will become more prevalent for certain unmanned aircraft similar to 
that of manned aircraft.
    Therefore, an unmanned aircraft--of any size or weight--used for 
certain activities will require airworthiness certification or 
approvals due to higher risk potential, such as flights over populated 
areas for deliveries. Moreover, a substantially-damaged delivery drone 
may uncover significant safety issues, the investigation of which may 
enhance aviation safety through the independent and established NTSB 
process. This proposed definition change will treat a UAS with 
airworthiness certification or airworthiness approval in the same 
manner as a manned aircraft with airworthiness certification or 
airworthiness approval, thereby enabling the NTSB to immediately 
investigate, influence corrective actions, and propose safety 
    Accordingly, the proposed definition will be flexible to account 
for changes in the UAS industry and will allow the NTSB to respond 
quickly to UAS events with safety significance, while not burdening the 
agency or public with unnecessary responses.

III. Unaffected Regulations

A. 49 CFR 830.2 Aircraft Accident

    There is no change to the current definition of ``aircraft 
accident'' for those events in which death or serious injury occurs 
regardless of weight or airworthiness status.

B. 14 CFR Part 107 Small Unmanned Aircraft Systems

    The proposed definition will only affect those operations under 14 
CFR part 107 that apply to small UAS that weigh less than 55 lbs. and 
hold an airworthiness certificate. As for the remaining small UAS 
operated under part 107 that do not hold airworthiness certificates or 
approvals, the ``airworthiness certificate or approval'' criteria in 
the proposed definition will not apply; only events resulting in 
serious injury or death will be categorized as an ``accident.''

C. Section 349 of the Reauthorization Act

    This proposed definition will not affect hobbyist/modeler 
operations. The NTSB does not intend to investigate such accidents.

IV. Regulatory Analysis

    Because the NTSB is an independent agency, this rule does not 
require an assessment of its potential costs and benefits under section 
6(a)(3) of Executive Order (E.O.) 12866, Regulatory Planning and 
Review, 58 FR 51735 (Sept. 30, 1993). In addition, the NTSB has 
considered whether this rule would have a significant economic impact 
on a substantial number of small entities, under the Regulatory 
Flexibility Act (5 U.S.C. 601-612). The NTSB certifies under 5 U.S.C. 
605(b) that this rule would not have a significant economic impact on a 
substantial number of small entities.
    The NTSB does not anticipate this rule will have a substantial, 
direct effect on state or local governments or will preempt state law; 
as such, this rule does not have implications for federalism under E.O. 
13132, Federalism, 64 FR 43255 (Aug. 4, 1999).
    This rule complies with all applicable standards in sections 3(a) 
and 3(b)(2) of E.O. 12988, Civil Justice Reform, 61 FR 4729 (Feb. 5, 
1996), to minimize litigation, eliminate ambiguity, and reduce burden. 
The NTSB has evaluated this rule under: E.O. 12898, Federal Actions to 
Address Environmental Judice in Minority Populations and Low-Income 
Populations, 59 FR 7629 (Feb. 16, 1994); E.O. 13045, Protection of 
Children from Environmental Health Risks and Safety Risks, 62 FR 19885 
(Apr. 21, 1997); E.O. 13175, Consultation and Coordination with Indian 
Tribal Governments, 65 FR 67249 (Nov. 6, 2000); E.O. 13211, Actions 
Concerning Regulations That Significantly Affect Energy Supply, 
Distribution, or Use, 66 FR 28355 (May 18, 2001); and the National 
Environmental Policy Act, 42 U.S.C. 4321-47. Pursuant to the Paperwork 
Reduction Act, the NTSB has determined that there is no new requirement 
for information collection associated with this proposed rule. The NTSB 
has concluded that this NPRM neither violates nor requires further 
consideration under those orders and statutes.
    The NTSB has concluded that this proposed rule neither violates nor 
requires further consideration under the aforementioned Executive 
orders and acts.

List of Subjects in 49 CFR Part 830

    Air transportation, Aircraft accidents, Aircraft incidents, 
Airworthiness directives and standards, Aviation safety, Drones, 
Investigations, Reporting and recordkeeping requirements, Safety, 
Unmanned aircraft systems.

    The Chairman of the National Transportation Safety Board, Robert L. 
Sumwalt, III, having reviewed and approved this document, is delegating 
the authority to electronically sign this document to Brian Curtis, who 
is the Deputy Managing Director for Investigations, for purposes of 
publication in the Federal Register during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Brian Curtis,
Deputy Managing Director for Investigations.

    Accordingly, for the reasons stated in the Preamble, the NTSB 
proposes to amend 49 CFR part 830 as follows:


1. The authority citation for part 830 continues to read as follows:

    Authority: 49 U.S.C. 1101-1155; Pub. L. 85-726, 72 Stat. 731 
(codified as amended at 49 U.S.C. 40101).

Sec.  830.2  [Amended]

2. Amend Sec.  830.2 in paragraph (2) of the definition of ``Unmanned 
aircraft accident'' by removing the phrase ``has a maximum gross 
takeoff weight of 300 pounds or greater'' and adding in its place 
``holds an airworthiness certificate or approval''.
[FR Doc. 2021-09807 Filed 5-20-21; 8:45 am]