The original version of the bill, introduced after the FAA reauthorization package proposed in the House (the AIRR Act) was tabled over its controversial privatization provision, called for several provisions supporting the drone industry. The bill calls for the FAA to examine the possibility of drone flight beyond visual line of sight (BVLOS) which would allow for drone delivery and other commercial applications, and a micro drone classification, allowing small commercial drones to be exempt from some FAA requirements.
The bill also calls for an online operator’s test to be included as part of the drone registration program.
The Senators’ discussion about drones as was occasionally heated during this morning’s meeting. In discussing privacy, Sen. Nelson from Florida seemed to feel that spying drones were an imminent danger, delivering a diatribe about drones peeping into bedrooms and through kitchen windows to capture tax information from the tax returns left carelessly on the kitchen counter.
The Senators disagreed sharply as they considered the Heller Amendment also, which pushes the Department of Transportation to create a certification program for drones carrying packages within 2 years. While Senator Manchin from West Virginia seemed to think that drone delivery should be prevented on the basis that it would take jobs and was unnecessary, Senator Maria Cantwell from Washington pointed out that the applications for drone carriers were widespread and that it was necessary to force a reasonable timeframe for a regulatory framework. “We are inhibiting innovation… because we do not push the FAA to move fast enough,” Cantwell commented. The proposed amendment was passed.
The idea of FAA privatization was also addressed: while the Senate proposal avoids the controversial issue, Senator McCaskill from Missouri referenced the recent OIG reports of FAA disfunction and wished to be put on record that change was necessary. “We’re ignoring a serious issue …,” she said. “It’s not a pretty picture.”