GOP chairman concerned about drone delays

GOP chairman concerned about drone delays
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The chairman of the House Aviation subcommittee said Wednesday that he is concerned about the Federal Aviation Administration’s delays in approving the use of non-military drones in the U.S. 

“It is not hard to imagine [drones] making existing industries more efficient and giving rise to entirely new ones,” Rep. Frank LoBiondoFrank Alo LoBiondoThe 31 Trump districts that will determine the next House majority LoBiondo launches consulting firm Live coverage: House elects new Speaker as Dems take charge MORE (R-N.J.) said during a hearing on Wednesday. 

“All of this could mean new jobs and vast economic opportunities for the American people,” he continued. “So it also concerns me when I read…about major U.S. companies taking their [drone research and design] activities to foreign countries, such as Canada and Australia, because FAA regulations are too burdensome.  It also concerns me that road builders in Germany and farmers in France today are enjoying economic benefits from UAS because safety regulators there have found ways to permit such flights.  I can’t help but wonder that if the Germans, French, and Canadians can do some of these things today, then why can’t we also be doing them?” 

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The FAA has been facing increased pressure to approve a rapid expansion of nonmilitary drone use. Congress has agency until September 2015 to finalize new rules for the unmanned aircraft. 

The FAA has been testing the interaction between drones and other types of commercial and private airplanes at multiple sites across the country. 

FAA Associate Administrator for Aviation Safety Peggy Gilligan told the panel Wednesday that the agency is “committed” to ensuring drones can fly safely alongside commercial airplanes. 

“The FAA has taken several key steps to integrate [drones] into the [National Airspace System],” Gilligan told the panel in testimony submitted ahead of Wednesday’s hearing, citing the test sites that have been set up and the exemptions that have been granted this year by the agency. 

The pressure on the FAA to quickly approve drones is being ramped up in part because online companies, such as Amazon, have said they could be used to speed up delivery times. 

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

The potential for increased use of drones has drawn criticism from privacy advocates, who have raised concerns about surveillance.

LoBiondo said Wednesday that “safety is paramount and the challenges are difficult” when it comes to allowing non-military drones to be flown in the U.S. 

But the New Jersey lawmaker said he was confident a balance could be struck between safety and drone technology.

“If there is a country that is up to the challenges of safe [drone] integration, it is certainly the United States of America,” LoBiondo said. “We have the very best engineers, smartest inventors, creative minds, and knowledgeable regulators to ensure American leadership in aviation in the decades ahead.” 

The deadline from Congress for the FAA to issue a ruling on drones was included in the funding bill that was approved for the agency in 2012.

Gilligan told lawmakers that the agency’s actions have been “consistent” with the desire that was expressed in the 2012 legislation. 

“The United States has the safest aviation system in the world, and our goal is to integrate this new and important technology while still maintaining safety as our highest priority,” she said. “We are committed to ensuring that America continues to lead the world in the development and implementation of aviation technology. We look forward to continuing to work together with Congress as we continue to integrate UAS into the NAS.”