Yesterday’s Senate Subcommittee Hearing, Integrating Unmanned Aircraft Systems Technology into the National Airspace System, offered testimony from politicians, air line pilots, and the FAA on drone safety – but did not include any representatives from the drone industry. All of the testimonies were largely focused on the potential dangers of drones to commercial airplanes, and there were no representatives from the drone industry to balance the discussion towards an industry-strengthening process of UAV integration into the National Air Space (NAS.)
While all of the speakers made a nod to the economic impact drones are expected to have, Chairperson Senator Susan Collins (R-Maine) set the tone clearly in her opening statements, citing several recent news headlines about drones and focusing on the issue of drones around airplanes:
According to the FAA, there were 764 possible encounters with unmanned aircraft reported by pilots or airport personnel between November 2014 and August 2015 across the country, including in my state of Maine. In keeping with its mission, the FAA must act to counter the potential threat of “rogue drones” and the harm they pose to aircraft and passengers.
After stating the same 764 “possible encounter” statistic and explaining why the organization believes one encounter may someday result in a serious incident, Airline Pilot’s Association President Tim Cannoll made the union’s position clear, calling again for immediate action on rule making:
Until comprehensive solutions are developed and promulgated by the FAA, our overarching position is that no unmanned aircraft, public or civil, should be allowed unrestricted access to conduct flight operations into the NAS unless it meets all of the high standards currently required for every other airspace user.
FAA Deputy Director Michael Huerta’s testimony reviewed all of the progress that the FAA has made towards integration, including streamlining the exemption process, developing educational materials, and increasing engagement with industry partners to develop new technologies; and he introduced two new executives tagged to head the UAV integration initiative. While emphasizing the agencies efforts to educate operators about appropriate rules, Huerta repeated assertions he has made several times previously that education must go hand in hand with enforcement, stating: “For some, education will never be sufficient. As with any other activity, we will always have to contend with those who wish to cause mischief or refuse to consider the potential harm their activities might pose to others.”
Marty Rogers, Deputy Director of the FAA’s Alliance for System Safety of UAS through Research Excellence (ASSURE) based out of Mississippi State University, told the committee that the center was rigorously testing an approach to developing protocols for UAV integration. He joined the other witnesses in pointing out the danger to airplanes, and calling for fast action. “…the reality of a collision between a manned and unmanned system is inevitable, and it is not a question of if, but when. Our ability to continue ‘contemplating the problem’ is at an end,” said Rogers.
While all of the testimonies agreed that drones are significant growing presence in airspace, and all agreed that action is necessary, no new deadlines or expected release dates were announced. Copies of all of the testimonies can be found here.
Miriam McNabb is the Editor-in-Chief of DRONELIFE and CEO of JobForDrones, a professional drone services marketplace, and a fascinated observer of the emerging drone industry and the regulatory environment for drones. Miriam has a degree from the University of Chicago and over 20 years of experience in high tech sales and marketing for new technologies.
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