Drone Pilot Applications Skyrocket After FAA Rule Release

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By Stephanie Beasley

Sept. 16 — The number of applications to operate drones will soar past expectations, FAA officials said.

The Federal Aviation Administration received 12,000 applications for remote pilot certificates since new commercial drone regulations allowing the use of small commercial drones took effect Aug. 29, agency Administrator Michael Huerta said during the first meeting of an FAA drone advisory committee (See previous story, 08/26/16). The agency expects to receive about 16,000 for the entire year.

Requirements for a remote pilot certificate include passing an aeronautical knowledge test. More than 4,000 people passed that test in the past month, according to Earl Lawrence, director of the FAA Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS) Integration Office.

The quick proliferation of potential drone operators puts pressure on the FAA to speed rule development to integrate the small aircraft into the national airspace, which drones would share with passenger planes and other manned aircraft. The agency has been criticized by Congress and industry groups for moving too slowly.

The industry is developing quickly, which means it will be crucial for the FAA to attract companies including technology enterprises and online retailers, as well as model aeronautics groups, to support the safe integration of drones into the national airspace, Lawrence said.

Industry members—along with state and local officials and the general public—will need to reach a consensus on the top safety priorities.

“Obviously it's helpful for the pace of the introduction of UAS,” Lawrence told Bloomberg BNA. “If we have a consensus amongst society and the manufacturers, that makes it a lot easier to move forward with rulemaking or anything similar.”

Setting Priorities For Next Two Years

The drone advisory committee was established last month to help the FAA prioritize areas in which additional policies and regulations are needed over the next two years. Committee members will have to decide what topics should tackled during the meetings, to be held three times a year.

Among the 35 committee members are representatives from Amazon Prime Air, American Airlines Group Inc., AT&T Inc., BNSF Railway, CNN, Facebook Inc., Google, Intel Corp., the National Air Traffic Controllers Association and United Parcel Service Inc.

Finding areas of agreement among the diverse group could be challenging. According to an internal member survey, top areas of interest include the development of collision-avoidance systems, autonomous drone operations, flights beyond a pilot's line of sight, and public perception of drones, Al Secen, vice president of aviation technology standards for the Radio Technical Commission for Aeronautics, said.

Secen said the committee is near consensus on the idea of adding technological concerns such as collision avoidance to the list of priorities. Other areas that the majority of the group seemed to recognize as important to future work include developing a response to public perceptions of drones—which include areas like safety and privacy—and improving the FAA certification process for drones.

There was disagreement about where other issues, such as spectrum sharing and cybersecurity, should fall on the list. Although privacy was discussed at the meeting, Secen said it was not a concern raised in the survey. Further, privacy did not seem to fit into the committee's mandate to advise the FAA because the agency does not regulate privacy standards.

The FAA's Huerta agreed.

“We don't really regulate anything for its use,” he said. “We regulate it for safety.”

Huerta suggested that, if the committee decided to address privacy concerns, one of the questions that would need to be answered is who should oversee the development of drone privacy regulations.

To contact the reporter on this story: Stephanie Beasley in Washington at sbeasley@bna.com

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Heather Rothman at hrothman@bna.com

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