News and Commentary. The FAA’s Drone Advisory Committee (DAC) met again yesterday, and once again Task Group 1 has garnered negative press in the Washington Post. But if you aren’t sure who the DAC is – and what exactly they’re supposed to be doing – you aren’t alone. Here are the answers to some of the questions asked about the DAC and their role in drone regulation.
What is the DAC?
The DAC is the acronym for the Drone Advisory Committee. At the 2016 AUVSI Xponential Conference, FAA Administrator Michael Huerta announced that the FAA would form an advisory committee to help them form drone regulations more quickly, by leveraging the experience and input of a broad range of stakeholders. According to the FAA’s official announcement, the DAC “is a broad-based, long-term advisory committee that provides the FAA with advice on key UAS integration issues by helping to identify challenges and prioritize improvements.”
Who’s on the DAC?
A full list of members can be found here. The DAC consists of 34 members plus the FAA’s Deputy Administrator Dan Ellwell and a secretary from RTCA. (RTCA is a non-profit organization formed to provide technical expertise to the federal government for the formation of regulations. RTCA provides some management and administrative services for the DAC.)
The FAA promised that “Membership will be comprised of CEO/COO-level executives from a cross-section of stakeholders representing the wide variety of UAS interests, including industry, research and academia, retail, and technology.”
Intel Corporation’s Brian Krzanich is the chair of the Committee. The members represent a broad variety of players from drone manufacturers, major corporate drone operators, drone software providers, drone advocacy groups, manned aircraft representatives, airports, academia, and local governments. Major commercial participants include Intel, DJI, Amazon, Google X, and Facebook.
Who Chose the Members of the DAC?
The RTCA provided some help in choosing members, but the FAA made the final choice on who would be included on the Committee.
Who Does the DAC Work For?
DAC members are volunteers, but they are working for the FAA. The results of their efforts will be delivered to the FAA and Deputy Administrator Dan Ellwell is the Designated Federal Officer for the group.
What is the DAC Supposed to Produce?
The DAC has been tasked with producing recommendations to the FAA. There is no promise or guarantee that the FAA will act on these recommendations, or that they will later appear as regulations: but the FAA has said that they will be an important source of information. The idea is that the group will help the FAA establish a framework, and help them prioritize things like flight beyond visual line of sight (BVLOS) and flight over people to determine which regulations might have the most impact on commercial drone applications.
What Does Task Group 1 Do?
Task Group 1 (TG1) is to make recommendations on the roles and responsibilities that state, tribal and local governments might have on drone regulations. This is an important question: while the FAA’s official stance had been that airspace regulation was the sole responsiblity of the FAA, their position has been softening as more and more state and local drone regulations are enacted. The recent announcement of the UAS Integration Pilot Program, which makes state, tribal and local governments directly responsible for the pilot programs in their communities, has made the change clear: local governments will have some role in drone regulation. (See our earlier article for more details – and the official statement of their responsibilities can be found here. Also relevant are two recently proposed bills by members of congress, designed to protect states’ rights in drone regulation: the Drone Federalism Act and the Drone Innovation Act.) TG1 is co-chaired by DJI‘s VP of Policy and Legal Affairs, Brendan Schulman, and Dr. John Eagerton of the Alabama Department of Transportation.
Are There Other Task Groups?
Yes: Task Group 2 is responsible for determining the priority of airspace access (that means things like BVLOS flight or flight over people.) Task Group 3 is responsible for making recommendations on the best way to fund drone integration.
What’s the Controversy About?
The controversy centers around a statement from San Francisco Mayor Edwin Lee to the RTCA and FAA, published here by the Washington Post. In the letter, Lee says that he cannot support the recommendations of TG1 and has “strong concerns” over the process. He urges that “the Task Group be reconstituted to better reflect a balance of perspectives.” The implication is simply that asking the representatives of drone manufacturers to make recommendations on regulation is concerning, as they may have a bias against state regulation. (Arguably one could make the same point about including state lawmakers.)
Lee complains that TG1 was poorly managed and that “there is a stark imbalance of perspectives and viewpoints favoring industry interests at the expense of local and state governments…”
The actual report of TG1 to the DAC can be found here, where the group lays out a framework of 9 “Common Principles.” (Scroll down to find the start of the presentation titled “Status Report of DACSC TG1.”) Here the group offered two different options for some topics, such as who should be responsible for determining where takeoff and landing is allowed; or where “private property” begins and ends relative the airspace above. The two options listed generally represent two different views of states rights vs. FAA preemption.
What Impact Could the DAC and TG1 Have on Drone Operators?
The DAC recommendations could have a major impact on drone operators if the recommendations are adopted in future regulation. For example, state and local government regulation could influence whether or not drone operators may fly over private property or must follow public roadways; what agencies, such as local law enforcement, might be authorized to enforce drone laws; or which drones may be authorized for commercial use.
The FAA has worked hard in recent years to include stakeholders, work collaboratively, and move regulation along. It’s a very difficult job, and any solution is bound to be complex. Drone operators, however, should work to ensure that they keep up to date – and make their own voices heard. Operators may wish to investigate drone advocacy groups like AUVSI, the Drone User Group Network (DUGN), the AMA, or the Network of Drone Enthusiasts (NODE).
Get involved or at the very least, stay informed: drone regulations will impact the entire industry for better or for worse.
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.