FAA Administrator Michael Huerta held a press conference on Friday, Jan. 6 at CES 2017 to recap a successful year for the unmanned systems industry, and preview 2017.
Among the many accomplishments that Huerta acknowledged during his press conference was the passing of the small UAS rule in August 2016, and the statistics associated with the rule since its passing.
In the four months since the passing of the small UAS rule, more than 30,000 people have started the remote pilot application process, and about 16,000 of those people have taken the remote pilot knowledge exam, with almost a 90 percent pass rate.
Another significant achievement that Huerta acknowledged was the establishment of the drone advisory committee. According to Huerta, the committee allows the FAA to look at UAS use from every angle, while considering the different viewpoints and needs of members of the committee, which includes representatives from industry, government, labor and academia. AUVSI President and CEO Brian Wynne is a member of the group.
The committee’s first official meeting was held last September, and during the meeting, the committee began working to help the FAA determine two important things; the first being the highest priority unmanned aircraft operations, and how can industry gain access to the airspace to conduct these operations. The committee also helped identify the roles and responsibilities of UAS operators, manufacturers, and federal, state, and local government officials, related to UAS use in populated areas.
The next meeting will be held in January, in Reno, Nevada.
The final major accomplishment that Huerta highlighted during his press conference was the FAA’s holding of the first Unmanned Aircraft Symposium, which Huerta described as the “ultimate exercise in democracy.”
Huerta looks forward to the next symposium this year, which will look to address a number of different topics including the intersection of privacy and pre-emption, the importance of harmonizing global regulations, and new safety and security risks associated with UAS use.
As he reflected on 2016, Huerta said he believes that the year was one of the more successful ones in recent memory.
“Our challenge is to find the right balance where safety and innovation coexist on relatively equal plains,” Huerta says. “And I don’t think it’s an exaggeration to say that we’ve accomplished a lot in the last year as we’ve moved towards this goal, then we have done many previous years before it.”
He also acknowledged that everything that was accomplished was in large part because the FAA and the industry worked cohesively through a team effort.
“I think it’s important to point out that the progress we’ve made; we’ve made because we have done it together.”
Taking a look into the future, Huerta said that several things are on the agenda of the FAA for 2017, some of which are short term goals, while others are the continuation of more long term plans.
For one, Huerta would like to see the continuation of work towards a rule that allows small UAS to be flown over people. Some had expected that announcement today, but Huerta said that while flying UAS over people raises safety and security issues, the FAA is doing all that it can to advance the effort of making a rule that will allow that flight. He said that the FAA will be looking to work with industry partners to come up with the guidelines for this rule.
Huerta also touched on the topic of flying beyond a pilot’s visual line of sight, and the FAA’s work with NASA to develop an Unmanned Traffic Management (UTM) System that will help manage UAS traffic in airspace that is shared with manned aircraft.
Finally, Huerta spoke about the FAA’s work with some of its pathfinder partners and other government agencies on a drone detection security effort, to cut back on the number of drone sighting reports by pilots, which saw a substantial spike in number in 2016 from 2015.
The effort involves testing technologies designed to detect unauthorized drone operations near airports and other critical infrastructure, or in unauthorized airspace. Testing of these technologies will be used to draft standards that can be used by airport operators across the country that are considering installing drone detection systems.
Going forward, Huerta made it clear that it’s essential for the FAA to continue working in partnership with the industry, instead of trying to tell members of industry what to do.
“We also know that for us to be successful, we can’t as regulators, dictate from above. Instead, we have to work in close collaboration and in partnership with industry, and those who fly unmanned aircraft both for recreation and for commercial purposes,” he said. Overall, Huerta said he is happy with the progress made over the last year, but maintained that it’s only a small step in a much larger process.
“The progress we’ve made during the last year, I think has been quite important and it is something that many of us would have thought unimaginable not long ago,” he says. “It’s a great start, but I think we all acknowledge it’s just the beginning.”
And one of the most important components of continuing the successful run is enthusiasm, according to Huerta.
“With both technology and innovation blazing ahead at warp speed, we know that as regulators, we have to lean forward. We have to approach our challenges with the same kind of creativity and open mindedness that is fueling this drone revolution.”
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