The Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee approved their version of the FAA Reauthorization Bill this morning. Committee Chairman John Thune, a Republican from South Dakota, said that the bill offers “many improvements” over last year’s bill, including “safety and privacy concerns related to drones.”
While the Senate bill does not include privatization of air traffic control (ATC) as the House Bill (the “21st Century AIRR Act”) does, Thune did not rule out the possibility. “Some have noted that this legislation does not include major reforms to the air traffic control system, as have been proposed by Chairman Shuster of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee and, more recently, the President,” said Thune. “To be clear, I remain open-minded about the idea of moving the FAA’s ATC function into a not-for-profit, non-governmental body, but I also appreciate that sincerely-held concerns exist. So, I hope – and expect – that we will consider this proposal more fully as the bill advances beyond the Committee.”
There were a few interesting markups included in the approved version of the bill, including one by Republican Senator Jim Inhofe of Oklahoma, which calls for a 2-year timeline on a plan for the integration of self-piloted aircraft. A joint proposal from Senators Peters and Moran called for an improvement to the provision for drone use at educational institutions, and another proposal called for an adjustment to the process for obtaining emergency waivers for disaster response.
Of significant interest to the drone industry is the bill’s provision for requiring commercial operators to maintain privacy policies – and to contribute information to a publicly searchable database, to be maintained by the FAA. This database would include contact information for commercial pilots and drone owners, fleet information, registration information, and customer information.
Some drone advocacy groups have already expressed concern over the provisions, which represent a significant burden for commercial operators of all sizes.
The bill will now move to the Senate for further debate.