For AUVSI attendees impatient with the pace of access by unmanned air vehicles in the national airspace, two US lawmakers in key posts overseeing the US Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) had encouraging words, but little good news, in the opening session today.
Representative John Mica, an Orlando-based Republican, a former chair of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, warned the audience to expect more delays in the FAA’s process.
The aviation subcommittee of Mica’s panel “will probably have to put some new language in and some new deadlines in pushing the goalposts forward”, he says.
“I wish I could tell you it was all going to be done on time and on schedule, but unfortunately government doesn’t always work that way,” Mica says.
The FAA is required by law to propose a draft set of rules by the end of the year for incorporating small UAVs under 55lb into the national airspace, but the agency is likely to fall behind schedule.
Representative Frank LoBiondo, who chairs the aviation subcommittee, noted the opportunity cost if the FAA process continues to drag on
“We are going to continue to find ways to speed up the process, understanding this economic potential. If we don’t unleash it there’s going to be a lot of damage done…in economic [activity] that doesn’t take place,” he says.
Both lawmakers cited their credentials as conservative Republicans in voicing frustrating with the pace of the federal bureaucracy.
“I don’t want to be part of a government that is causing things to be blocked,” LoBiondo says. “The FAA is many respects is a little bit too cautious.”
Mica, however, brought up the recent report of a near-collision between a small UAV and a passenger-carrying airliner on 22 March at 2,300ft near Tallahassee, Florida.
“That’s the kind of thing we don’t want to happen,” Mica says. “We certainly don’t want an horrific accident to set us back.”
Mica also emphasised that Congress and regulators must be careful about addressing the issue of privacy, with regard to the data and imagery collected by UAVs if they are allowed to operate in the airspace.
But LoBiondo pledged to keep pushing the FAA to move faster. “Keeping the pressure on is what we can do right now,” he says.