While clicking through drone related links this past weekend, I re-stumbled upon Steven Hogan’s article titled, “Confused about “Drone Law?” You’re not alone” You’re not alone.” Steven is a lawyer at Ausley & McMullen, and according to his LinkedIn headline, he is a commercial and tax litigator as well as a drone lawyer.
In Steven’s article, he discusses the word drone and points out that in the FAA Modernization and Reform Act (FMRA) the word drone isn’t used.
Though the “d-word” doesn’t scare me, we have to get clear on our technical terminology. The word “drone” has no fixed meaning. It’s a pop-culture term. It means whatever the speaker wants it to mean. “Drone” is less than helpful as a descriptive word.
The term “Unmanned Aircraft System” is more precise. This is a defined term under the FMRA that means “an unmanned aircraft and[its] associated elements (including communication links and the components that control the unmanned aircraft) that are required for the pilot in command to operate safely and efficiently in the national airspace system.” FMRA, § 331(9). An Unmanned Aircraft System (or “UAS”) is more than just the airborne device. A UAS includes all components that make the device work. This means the airframe, its mechanical components (engines, rotors, whatever), the controller used by the Pilot in Command (or “PIC”), the communications system that allows the airframe to be controlled by the PIC, and so on. Every piece that makes the device “work” is part of the unmanned system.
The UAS category is subdivided into two general sections. The first refers to the small devices that are easily accessible by consumers. These are “Small” Unmanned Aircraft Systems. This term is also defined by the FMRA as “an unmanned aircraft weighing less than 55 pounds.” FMRA, § 331(6). This term is abbreviated as “sUAS.”
To qualify as an sUAS, the airframe must weigh fifty-five pounds or less, fully loaded on takeoff. The weight includes all components and the payload. So if your camera is super-heavy, you could “tip the scales” and no longer have an sUAS on your hands.
There is no special term for a UAS that is not an sUAS due to weighing over 55 pounds. Anything over that weight is still a “UAS” for regulatory purposes.
While UAS or sUAS may be the most accurate was to describe your quadcopter under the FMRA, at Drone Universities, we believe that the word drone has become the common term covering not just unmanned aircraft, but all words of unmanned or autonomous vehicles.
Which term do you prefer? Do you prefer drone or UAS or even something different such as UAV?