Drone makers want FAA to start use now

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Drone makers are encouraging the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) to allow unmanned aircraft to fly over rural areas before a broader integration with commercial airplanes is completed.

The Arlington, Va.-based Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International (AUVSI) said the FAA should let non-military drones fly on a "limited basis" because tests of their impact on other airplanes is taking too long to complete.

"The FAA has been working on this NPRM since 2009," AUVSI President Michael Toscano wrote in a letter to FAA Administrator Michael Huerta. "Most recently, the FAA this month indicated that the small [Unmanned Aerial System] rule is now expected to be published in November 2014 – almost four years late."

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In its 2012 FAA reauthorization bill, Congress ordered the agency to begin licensing commercial drones by 2015.

The agency released a "roadmap" for potential drone use and has identified six sites for testing their integration with the broad aviation system.

Toscano said the AUVSI was concerned the testing was moving too slowly, however.

"As the world's largest non-profit organization devoted exclusively to advancing the unmanned systems and robotics community, my organization…is concerned that further delay of this rule will hinder the industry and prevent this revolutionary technology from taking off," he wrote. "We encourage you to use the authority granted by Congress in Section 333 of the FAA Modernization and Reform Act to allow for some limited UAS operations before the rule is finalized, especially in areas where there is little risk to manned aircraft or people on the ground, such as around power lines, pipelines and rural farms."

Toscano said his organizations is mindful of the difficulties the FAA is facing with its drone review.

But he said drones were too valuable to keep grounded.

"Whether it is helping farmers improve crop yields, assisting first responders with search and rescue missions or advancing scientific research, UAS are capable of saving time, saving money and most importantly, saving lives," Toscano wrote. "The industry, meanwhile, is poised to boost local economies and create jobs. AUVSI’s economic impact study found that, in the first decade following integration, the UAS industry will create more than 100,000 jobs and $82 billion in economic impact. However, each day that integration is delayed will lead to $27 million in lost economic impact.

"The November 2013 release of the UAS Integration Roadmap, the December 2013 announcement of six federally designated UAS test sites, and the first commercial flight of a UAS in the U.S. Arctic were all important milestones on the path toward unlocking the potential of unmanned aircraft," Toscano continued. "However, until the FAA writes the rules for small unmanned aircraft, the commercial UAS industry will remain grounded."