Senators to question FAA chief after missed drone deadline

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Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) chief Michael Huerta will face questions from senators on Wednesday for the first time since his agency missed a September deadline for legalizing drones that was set by Congress in 2012. 

Huerta is scheduled to testify before the Senate Appopriations Committee's Transportation, Housing and Urban Development (THUD) Subcommittee during a hearing on Wednesday that is designed to allow lawmakers "to examine the steps being taken to integrate unmanned aircraft systems, or drones, into our National Airspace System," according to officials with the panel.

The hearing comes after missed a Sept. 30 deadline for legalizing drones that was set by Congress in an FAA funding bill that was passed in 2012. The agency has said it is still in the process of crafting regulations for increased use of the devices alongside commercial airplanes.

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"The hearing will explore the need for additional safety measures as the Federal Aviation Administration proceeds with its plans to integrate this innovative technology into the national airspace," officials with the panel said in an announcement of the hearing. 

The FAA has been working on regulations for allowing a rapid expansion of the use of commercial drones in the U.S. for several years. Congress ordered the agency to develop a framework by the end of this year in a 2012 aviation funding bill. 

The FAA has faced tremendous pressure to approve such an expansion of nonmilitary drone use from companies such as Amazon, who have said the technology can be used to make speedier online deliveries. 

Police and other law enforcement groups are also seeking approval to use the technology, and the FAA has investigated several drone incidents that occurred in conjunction with photography at college and professional sporting events.

The agency has said that is considering requiring drone users to register their devices with the federal government to cut down on interference from drones on commercial flights. 

The Senate panel is scheduled to hear testimony on Wednesday from Huerta and representatives from the Alliance for System Safety of UAS through Research Excellence and Air Line Pilots Association International. The hearing will be chaired by Sen. Susan CollinsSusan CollinsThe Trail 2016: Meet and greet and grief Senators press Obama education chief on reforms GOP senator: Trump endorsement could depend on VP MORE (R-Maine). 

The FAA has said recently that it has approved more than 1,700 drone flights under a section of federal law that allows the Transportation Department to wave requirements for FAA approval for unmanned aircraft operations that take place outside of restricted airspace and below 200 feet.

Drone advocates have complained that the exemptions the FAA is issuing for the devices are less effective than finalizing the rules for a widespread expansion.