A second-year student at IIT Chicago-Kent College of Law has
launched a legal fight with the Federal Aviation Administration over the agency’s
lack of speed in responding to his request for information on the agency’s
regulations of drone aircraft.
Albert J. Plawinski filed a complaint against the FAA in
federal court in late September, asking a judge to order the federal regulatory
agency to fulfill his request for agency records pertaining to Certificates of
Authority issued under so-called “section 333 exemptions,” permitting commercial
users to operate small unmanned aircraft.
Plawinski submitted the request under the Freedom of Information
Act (FOIA) on June 5, and the FAA has yet to respond, Plawinski said.
“The documents I asked for would give a clearer picture about
drone policy and would give an insight into what restrictions the FAA places on
commercial drone operators,” Plawinski said. “The FAA never responded to my
FOIA request. Once the statutory deadline approached for the FAA to produce
documents, I emailed them and asked for status. I then found out that the FAA
received my request but never forwarded it to the proper person. Several more
email exchanges revealed that the FAA simply made every excuse possible instead
of producing the documents. Frustrated, I filed this lawsuit.”
Section 333 grants the Secretary of Transportation the authority to determine
whether an airworthiness certificate is required for a drone to operate safely
in the National Airspace System.
The FOIA request for information submitted by Plawinksi was acknowledged by the
FAA on June 8 and assigned to a FOIA management specialist. That same say, it
was reassigned to another agent. Twenty days later, Plawinski still had none of
Plawinski said he desired to know the contents of those documents because it
would help research he is doing with law professor Henry H. Perritt Jr.,
director of the graduate program in financial services law at IIT-Chicago Kent,
for several legal publications about drones.
“I found that this information is critical to any legal analysis in this field
and in tracking FAA policy. After all, citizens in this country are entitled to
this information. It all should be publicly available,” he said.
Making information publicly available was one of the purposes of the lawsuit,
according to Plawinski.
“This lawsuit is about transparency. It is difficult for people to make any
kind of analysis without understanding exactly what is going on behind the
scenes,” he said. “Currently, anyone can access the FAA’s website and examine
the Section 333 exemption, but the exemption does not tell the entire story.”
He said the documents will show what actual restrictions the
FAA places on Section 333 exemption holders; presently, researchers must rely on “assumptions
about those restrictions,” he said.
“It is difficult to make or suggest policy based on missing
data,” Plawinski said.
He said the research, analysis and policy suggestions will focus on drone
safety, a topic which has held his interest since his undergraduate days at the
University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.
He said the desire to make the skies safe is something he believes he and the FAA
share. Plawinski said he believes the FAA should keep an eye on the sky, but
with some caveats.
“I believe the FAA should regulate drones, but the FAA needs to come up with
common-sense and comprehensive regulations. Furthermore, individual states and
municipalities must follow and introduce their own legislation that will eliminate
any areas not addressed by the federal laws,” he said. “I understand that
legislators tend to over-regulate new technology that they are not familiar
with. Nevertheless, I believe the FAA is on the right track with some of the
proposed rules that will allow them to regulate drones, but also allow more
people to use drones commercially without a large burden on licensing and
registration that currently plagues the process.”
The best solution, according to the law student, is a middle ground between
regulation and invasion.
As for the FOIA request, Plawinski still has yet to receive a response from the
FAA, even after filing his lawsuit.
“Prior to filing, however, the FAA claimed the information is already online,
but they will send me a link,” he said. “Neither of those is true.”