Northrop Grumman chief executive officer Wes Bush, speaking in Washington, DC, called regulatory participation 'indispensible' for integrating unmanned air vehicles (UAV) into national airspace.
"Nothing, nothing at all could happen on any useful scale absent a legal and regulatory framework that has to be agreed to by our elected leaders. Well, that's happened now," says Bush.
The most recent FAA reauthorization to pass Congress includes language directing the agency to establish six sites for testing UAVs in civil airspace and requests a report about how to incorporate them into all airspace.
"If you turn the clock back five or ten years ago, if I'd been asked to address unmanned systems in civil airspace, I probably wouldn't have much to say," says Bush. "We'd be speculating about regulatory hurdleswe'd be speculating about technology."
"We'd also be speculating about, what would we do with these things?" he adds.
The six sites are expected to be operational by February, 2013. UAVs are supposed to be integrated into the national airspace by September, 2015.
Currently, UAVs are restricted to pre-cleared blocks of airspace, clustered around their operating locations, including military airfields and universities with test programmes.