A Senate Aviation Operations, Safety, and Security Subcommittee hearing revealed earliest acceptance of the recently proposed FAA rules regarding UAS would occur in the last quarter of 2016. In the interim, the FAA will be taking other critical steps to expedite the exemption process and remove some hurdles for commercial drone testing and usage, but will remain committed to addressing issues of safety, and dealing with the complexity and volume unique to US airspace.
The panel assembled included a range of UAS experts, covering the fields of agriculture and package delivery, as well as those with appropriate legal or regulatory backgrounds.
Margaret Gilligan, Associate Administrator for Aviation Safety at the FAA, spoke on the agency’s behalf reiterating their stance that safety is the main priority. They are, however, working on reducing processing time. They plan to accomplish this by granting permissions faster to requests that are similar in nature to previously approved submissions.
The FAA faces the obstacles of scaling to increasing exemption requests and the costs associated with inspections. Traditionally, the FAA’s inspection and certification fees only serve to offset the costs otherwise provided for the budget. “As we identify our requirements, we may be making additional requests through the budget process,” Gilligan said, adding that as they do with manned aircraft, the FAA will provide many complimentary services.
Paul Meisner, Vice President of Global Public Policy at Amazon Inc., gave credit to the FAA for making progress, but did not hesitate to point out that the FAA granted them permission to test a drone that is already obsolete, and lacked a framework for testing drones that fly beyond line of sight. Meisner stated that Amazon believes the UAS rules should be simple and performance based. He applauded the FAA for turning the corner in terms of inspection, but derided them for a lack of foresight.
Later, Gilligan explained the FAA’s main concern with beyond line-of-site operations, saying they feel it is an inadequate infrastructure for testing. Currently, regulations require a pilot to avoid other aircraft if they see or their sensors indicate there is one. The FAA would require UASs to sense and avoid other aircraft or obstacles in a reliable and consistent manner, and are working with Radio Technical Commission of Aeronautics to implement a set of standards to adhere to.
Junior Senator of New Jersey Cory Booker did little to hide his enthusiasm for the growing industry. He called attention to an often-overlooked aspect of the drone debate: The majority of drone incidents appearing in the media stem from amateur and hobbyist misuse. “This technology, to me, has unbounded potential, and we have history in this country of embracing that potential,” he said.
Other issues brought up during the hearing:
- Use of drones in agriculture lags behind other competing nations like the Japanese who use them for crop monitoring and maintentnace
- Privacy issues are largely overblown as Fourth and First Amendment still provide protection against unwarranted surveillance and invasion of privacy
- Air rights in the United States are different than in other coutnries and the zone of control a property owner has rights to resides in a legal grey zone.
- The environmental impact of large scale farming could be greatly reduced by spot monitoring and localized treatment provided by UASs.