American drone operators are flying through regulatory skies fogged with confusion and contradictions. Take this Catch 22 for example: Currently, commercial use of UAVs is prohibited by the FAA until such time as the agency can draft new regulations. In order to write these guidelines, the FAA needs test sites for research. Now, a key member of Congress is telling UAV operators there is no money for these sites.
During a recent conference of the Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International in Orlando, Fla., U.S. Rep. Frank LoBiondo told attendees not to expect any federal funding for FAA test ranges in six states. And, LoBiondo should know – he serves as the chairman of the House Aviation Subcommittee.
“When we got into this and had the initial discussions with the FAA, when I was introducing the legislation for the test sites, they made it very clear to us, meaning members of Congress and myself, that there would not be any money for this. They would not put any money into the test sites,” LoBiondo said.
The test sites allow FAA officials to understand and advocate internal standards for UAV flights and may play a pivotal rule in certifying UAV pilots in the future. “These [test site] data will lay the groundwork for reducing risks and ensuring continued safe operations of UAS,” said FAA Administrator Michael Huerta, in a press release regarding a test site in North Dakota. “We believe the test site programs will be extremely valuable to integrating unmanned aircraft and fostering America’s leadership in advancing this technology.”
LoBiondo says the only thing that may change the minds of his colleagues is pressure from constituents and he is urging UAV users to share their opinions with Congress.
“The members of Congress who vote on these things and approve these things need to understand the critical nature and the timing,” he said. “The timing is now. The criticality is now. The money is needed now.”
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