Industry, Lawmakers Want Faster, More Frequent Drone Regulation

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By Shaun Courtney

The FAA needs to issue regulations faster and update existing rules more regularly to keep up with the rapidly evolving unmanned aircraft industry, lawmakers and industry representatives said Nov. 29.

A critical piece of rulemaking mentioned several times at a House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee hearing was remote identification, which could allow law enforcement agencies remotely identify and track drones. Without remote identification figured out, the Federal Aviation Administration has hesitated to allow widespread operations beyond the line of sight, operations which one panelist called the “holy grail” for unmanned aircraft systems (UAS).

Updating regulations regularly, as often as every six months or year, and more testing to help inform future regulations are key to the the U.S.'s competitive UAS edge, said Dr. Juan Alonso, professor of aeronautics and astronautics at Stanford University.

“A little bit more pressure may need to be applied to the FAA in order to try to get these regulations happening more frequently,” Alonso said when asked what Congress could do to help.

Transportation and Infrastructure Chairman Bill Shuster (R-Pa.) called on FAA Deputy Administrator Dan Elwell and Director of the UAS Integration Office Earl Lawrence to put rules in place and then review or tweak then down the line.

“I encourage you to work as fast as you can on this,” Shuster said.

Remote ID

This summer a remote identification Aviation Rulemaking Committee (ARC) met to help the FAA create standards for remotely identifying and tracking unmanned aircraft. The group issued its report to the FAA by the Sept. 30 deadline, but the agency has not published the report. Once published, the report would pave the way for the FAA to issue a notice of proposed rulemaking (NPRM).Shuster (R-Pa.) asked both industry witnesses and the FAA representatives what the obstacles were to advancing the remote ID report, including whether there was formal opposition to remote ID from interest groups.

There are not opponents and in fact the commercial drone industry expects to have to identify themselves, Brian Wynne, CEO of the Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International said.

“We are a very compliance-minded company, so whatever the rules are, we just need clarity, we will gladly comply,” Billy Ball, the executive vice president for Southern Company, an energy company that turns to drones to inspect critical infrastructure.

Alonso said remote ID is solvable from a technology perspective and any delay is probably due to the deliberative nature of regulators.

“The lack of regulation for remote identification is just a typical case of the technology changing very rapidly,” he said. “I think the FAA is probably trying to see what is developing before they issue a regulation as to what drones must have.”

Now What?

After the hearing FAA’s Elwell told reporters that the ARC’s report is going through executive review and they hope to have it public “shortly.”

“The key is not to be prescriptive by naming a specific device, but coming out of the ARC with a performance prescription. So to say to the industry, ‘We don’t care who you use, but you gotta be able to do this, this and this,’” he said.

Elwell said they are learning to think faster and work faster from their partners in the drone advisory committees.

But neither Elwell nor Lawrence made any commitment to issue regulations in a particular time period.

“We don’t do change in days,” Elwell said.

To contact the reporter on this story: Shaun Courtney in Washington, D.C. at scourtney@bgov.com

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Paul Hendrie at phendrie@bgov.com

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