Sen. David Vitter, R-La., the chairman of the U.S. Senate committee on small business and entrepreneurship, announced that he has written the Micro Drone Safety and Innovation Act, which would create a micro drone classification for drones weighing under 4.4 lbs, exempting them from some FAA regulations.
The announcement was made in written testimony at the committee’s hearing titled “Up in the Air: Examining the Commercial Applications of Unmanned Aircraft for Small Businesses.” The hearing included a panel of industry experts, and one of small businesses. In his testimony, Vitter called out the FAA for not getting integration done effectively:
While the FAA has certainly taken an extended period of time to develop these regulations, it is important that we do not sacrifice the safety of our national airspace in favor of poorly developed regulations that fail to promote the proper usage of UAS.
However, the FAA’s failure to meet regulatory deadlines has limited the growth of the commercial “drone” industry. I’m hopeful that today’s conversation will bring us closer to finding the balance between the safe integration of drones in the national airspace without stifling small business innovation and utilization.
After emphasizing the growth of the drone industry and the business potential, Vitter says that the FAA commercial authorization system needs to change. “The current process is simply unacceptable and leaves too many small businesses out to dry,” says Vitter. “…The last thing our economy needs is unnecessary obstructions to small business growth, which is responsible for a huge part of sustaining jobs for hard-working Americans.”
Sen. Vitter then goes on to say that he has authored a new micro-drone bill in order to ease the system. The text of the new bill is not yet available.
Micro drone classification, which has been supported heavily by the drone industry, was introduced as an addendum to the AIRR act in the House; the AIRR act has been tabled due to controversial elements such as privatization of the Air Traffic Control section of the FAA. In the meantime, the FAA has established a task force in order to “provide a more flexible, performance-based approach for these operations than what was considered for Micro UAS,” and expects to have final recommendations in place by April 1.
The FAA created the task force in response to industry pressure for a micro drone class: the FAA has been unwilling to base regulations on size alone and has said that they have “decided not to proceed with a micro-drone classification.”
“Based on the comments about a ‘micro’ classification submitted as part of the small UAS proposed rule, the FAA will pursue a flexible, performance-based regulatory framework that addresses potential hazards instead of a classification defined primarily by weight and speed,”said FAA Administrator Michael Huerta when announcing the new task force.
The FAA seems to be engaged in a race with the Senate to get their ideas in place first. Current FAA authorization runs out on March 31, so legislators must act in some way to keep the agency running, but hey are widely expected to pass a temporary extension before passing the current Senate bill. With the FAA hoping for their task force recommendations by April 1, it remains to be seen which version of a micro drone plan will actually become law.
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.