Drones & FAA Extension, Safety, and Security Act of 2016 (FESSA)

By | July 7, 2016

It is properly called the FAA Extension, Safety, and Security Act of 2016. (“FESSA”)[1] but it has been colloquially called the “FAA Reauthorization.” This Act needed to be passed because the current funding liabilities of the FAA Modernization and Reform Act of 2012 (“FMRA”) expire July 15, 2016, but the FESSA will extend funding to September 30, 2017.[2]  U.S. Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.) announced he was going to send the legislation to President Obama by July 15th.

I’ll give you my input on the FESSA based upon my experience as a commercial pilot, flight instructor, and aviation attorney focusing on drones.

How to use this post:

There are many things the FESSA speaks to but for purposes of this blog post, I will be focusing only on the sections that pertain to unmanned aircraft. Each of these sections I am planning on writing an individual blog post for listing the FESSA text and my legal analysis of it. The reason why is there is a lot of material in the FESSA and making one “mega-post” would be very hard on readers.

You should bookmark this page.

Sections Applicable to Drones

Section 2201. Definitions. (Really Just Amendments to the FMRA Definitions)

Sec. 2202. Identification standards.

Sec. 2203. Safety statements.

Sec. 2204. Facilitating interagency cooperation for unmanned aircraft authorization in support of firefighting operations and utility restoration.

Sec. 2205. Interference with wildfire suppression, law enforcement, or emergency response effort by operation of unmanned aircraft.

Sec. 2206. Pilot project for airport safety and airspace hazard mitigation.

Sec. 2207. Emergency exemption process.

Sec. 2208. Unmanned aircraft systems traffic management.

Sec. 2209. Applications for designation.

Sec. 2210. Operations associated with critical infrastructure.

Sec. 2211. Unmanned aircraft systems research and development roadmap.

Sec. 2212. Unmanned aircraft systems-manned aircraft collision research.

Sec. 2213. Probabilistic metrics research and development study.

Overall Highlights of the FESSA

A printable PDF version of the text below is located here.


  • The measure extends the authorization of the FAA’s programs and the taxes that will fund those programs through September 30, 2017 at current funding levels.
  • The current authorization of the FAA and associated taxes expires on July 15, 2016.


  • Streamlines processes for approval and interagency cooperation to deploy unmanned aircraft during emergencies, such as disaster responses and wildfires.
  • Prohibits unmanned aircraft users from interfering with emergency response activities, including wildfire suppression, and raises civil penalties to not more than $20,000 for those found in violation.
  • Creates new processes to detect, identify, and mitigate unauthorized operation of unmanned aircraft around airports and critical infrastructure.
  • Expedites the completion of the pilot records database required in the Airline Safety and FAA Extension Act of 2010 in response to the 2009 Colgan Air Flight 3407 accident.
  • Requires the marking of certain towers to improve their visibility to low-flying aircraft and help prevent accidents.
  • Requires the FAA to evaluate and update standards for crash-resistant helicopter fuel systems in response to fatal accidents where the victims perished in post-crash fires.
  • Streamlines and improves the air traffic controller hiring process and ensures the FAA can better address chronic controller shortages with experienced candidates.
  • Directs the FAA to establish a comprehensive and strategic framework to identify and address cybersecurity risks to the aviation system.


  • Strengthens mental health screening for pilots, addressing a factor in the 2015 Germanwings Flight 9525 crash.
  • Ensures that pilots are sufficiently trained on manual flying skills and how to monitor cockpit automation systems, addressing a factor in the 2013 Asiana Flight 214 accident in San Francisco.
  • Requires training for flight attendants in recognizing and responding to potential victims of human trafficking.
  • Requires the FAA to provide quarterly updates to Congress regarding the number of incidents involving laser pointers being aimed at aircraft, and the number of civil or criminal enforcement actions taken by federal authorities with regard to these incidents.


  • Strengthens security for foreign airports by requiring comprehensive security assessments for all overseas airports serving the United States and considers the level of information sharing and security capabilities of foreign airports.
  • Authorizes capacity development, training, screening equipment donation, and cargo program certification for overseas airports to bolster the security standards for flights headed to the United States from high risk airports.
  • Expands the TSA PreCheck program by directing TSA to partner with the private sector to develop enhanced enrollment and vetting methods. By developing and marketing this program, TSA can strengthen security by identifying trusted travelers, while also increasing operational efficiency of checkpoints by providing expedited screening to more passengers.
  • Optimizes checkpoints by redeploying certain TSA personnel and assessing TSA’s staffing allocation model, in order to reduce passenger wait times while enhancing security effectiveness.
  • Tightens the access controls and employee vetting standards for aviation workers with access to secure and sterile areas of airports, in order to mitigate the insider threat to aviation security.
  • Authorizes “Checkpoint of the Future” innovation efforts underway at TSA, authorizes additional TSA Visible Intermodal Prevention and Response teams, and ensures these teams are trained to assist transportation hubs in preparing for and responding to active shooter scenarios.


  • Reforms and streamlines the third-class medical certification process.
  • Requires air carriers to provide a refund of paid baggage fees when items are lost or unreasonably delayed.
  • Requires airlines to generally ensure that children 13 years of age or under are seated adjacent to an adult or older child traveling with them.
  • Takes steps to improve air travel for persons with disabilities by requiring a review of training and best practices by airports and airlines, and by requiring DOT to issue a rule to address several issues of concern to the disabled community.
  • Extends authority for the DOT’s Advisory Committee for Aviation Consumer Protection.

[1] Section 1 (a).

[2] Section 1101(b); 1102(d),