FAA needs to create drone regulations

Recently, the unmanned systems industry gathered in Orlando to preview the latest advancements in unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) technology. Since last year’s Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International (AUVSI) show, companies like Amazon and Google have seen the benefits and potential of these systems, and the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) announced its six test sites for the technology. Excitement over UAS is at a fever pitch.

While the industry continues innovating and growing, regulations haven’t kept pace. The UAS on display in Orlando are ready to leave the showroom floor and take to the air, but the FAA hasn’t created the regulations they need to fly. Industries are already lining up to use the technology, and the FAA needs to work fast to catch up.

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The FAA has been working on rules for the use of small UAS – those weighing less than 55 pounds – for more than five years. Two years ago, Congress gave the agency a mandate to integrate UAS into the National Airspace System by September 2015 as part of the FAA Reauthorization Act, setting clear benchmarks and deadlines for the integration process.

But, the FAA has missed nearly every deadline in the process. The proposed rule for small UAS is expected this fall – four years late.

To be fair, the FAA has completed a number of important steps in the integration process. Late last year, it released the integration roadmap and announced the initial six UAS test site locations. Two of these sites – in North Dakota and Alaska – are already up and running, performing important research that will help to inform the integration process.

Yet, as the FAA takes it time, this technology continues to advance at an impressive rate. UAS are now advanced enough to be used for everything from search and rescue missions to filming Hollywood movies to creating detailed maps of farms. The technology is ready, but the lack of rules is keeping it grounded.

In addition to all of these beneficial uses, this industry has the potential to create thousands of jobs and have tremendous impact on our economy. An AUVSI study found that the industry will create more than 100,000 jobs and have an $82 billion economic impact in the decade following integration. But, for every day that integration is delayed, we will lose $27 million in economic impact.

Ultimately, the most important issue at stake is safety. The FAA is tasked with keeping our airspace safe, and we share that priority. The FAA’s delays, though, are holding back a technology that can help many people do their jobs better, faster and more safely.

The unmanned systems industry is not the only one asking for more rules. Last month, AUVSI and 32 other organizations sent a letter to the FAA urging the agency to expedite its rulemaking process. The signees included representatives from the manned aviation community, as well as farmers, journalists and even Realtors. These industries see potential in the technology, but are unable to use it until the FAA passes regulations. The FAA must act soon.

UAS have generated enthusiasm both across the country and internationally, as people develop innovative new uses for the technology. From Amazon’s plans for quick delivery to Google’s plans to bring the Internet to the world to hobbyists taking stunning videos of whales, people are excited about how they can use this technology.

This is an exciting time for aviation, and regulators, users and the industry need to work together to ensure that UAS are used safely, responsibly and able to reach their full potential.

Toscano is the president and CEO of the Association for Unmanned Vehicles Systems International, the industry’s leading trade organization.

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