On Wednesday, January 21, the House Science, Space, and Technology Committee (Chairman Lamar Smith, R-TX, and Ranking Member Eddie Bernice Johnson, D-TX) held a hearing on "Unmanned Aircraft Systems Research and Development" to discuss innovations in unmanned aircraft systems (UAS, or "drones"), the need for FAA rules on their commercial use, and the roadblocks to getting those rules promulgated. NAR sent a letter of support for clear regulations from the FAA permitting the commercial use of drones in a way that is affordable for users and safe for their communities. Witnesses at the hearing included representatives from NASA, the FAA, MIT's Aeronautics and Astronautics department, the National Research Council, the Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International, and 3D Robotics.
The hearing focused on what innovations are needed in drone technology for them to be safely integrated into the National Air Space (NAS) and for the FAA to approve their widespread commercial use, which is currently banned absent an exemption. Technologies discussed include "sense-and-avoid," which protects against on-air collisions and increased communication capabilities between drones and their on-the-ground operators. Additionally, education for operators was stressed as an important tool to avoiding many safety issues, especially those presented by the use of drones in areas that near airports.
There was bipartisan support among the Committee members present for the FAA to get its rulemaking done as soon as possible, as the drone industry has the potential to have a huge economic impact and to create many jobs in the U.S. The FAA representative did not give a timeline for the agency to put out its notice of proposed rulemaking on the issue of commercial drone use, or an estimate of when they will be incorporated into the NAS. NAR will continue to work with Congress to push for the FAA to complete its rulemaking as soon as possible.