Research, FAA reauthorization bills could spur UAS development

By Luke Geiver | February 11, 2016

Unmanned aircraft system research could increase this year depending on the success of a bill introduced to provide funding for manned and unmanned research. H.R. 4489, or, The FAA Leadership in Groundbreaking High-Tech Research and Development Act (Flight R&D Act), is supported by the Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International.

The bill “signifies a deeper national commitment to UAS research and development,” said Brian Wynne, AUVSI president and CEO. “This legislation will provide the FAA with resources for expanding UAS R&D, which is critical to integrating UAS into the National Airspace System and unlocking the full societal and economic benefits of the technology.”

If passed, the bill could provide $166 million to manned or unmanned research efforts. For UAS, research funding options include many possibilities ranging from human factors to collision research at NASA’s research center to any of the FAA selected test sites. The bill would also create an Associate Administrator of Research and Development at the FAA to oversee the R&D efforts.

John Sharp, Chancellor of the Texas A&M University System, thanked Sen. Lamar Smith, R-Texas, for helping advance the bill. “We know the committee was faced with the daunting task of developing legislation that fosters technology and innovation while maintaining the track record of safety with manned and unmanned flight,” Sharp said. “In an environment where technology and innovation are outpacing regulation, we applaud your efforts in developing a resolution that strikes a critical balance.”

Earlier this year, Rep. Bill Shuster, R-Pa., introduced the Aviation Innovation, Reform and Reauthorization (AIRR) Act. The bill offers a new framework and regulatory path forward to the UAS industry. The bill offers several changes to the operational approach the FAA can or should utilize, include several changes to UAS priorities.

Actions from the AIRR act include:

-Expediting the safe deployment of commercial UAS by creating a risk-based permitting process.

-Promoting greater utilization of UAS test ranges.

-Foster the development of sense-and-avoid technology at UAS test ranges.

-Establish a streamlined process for the FAA to permit the operation of small UAS for certain uses.

-Establish a government-industry advisory committee to assess the necessity and feasibility of a low-altitude unmanned aircraft system traffic management system.

-Facilitate the utilization of UAS in support of firefighting operations.

-Direct the DOT inspector general to assess the FAA’s small UAS registration system and the effectiveness of the system.

-Direct FAA to conduct a pilot program to evaluate UAS detection and mitigation technology.

-Direct DOT to conduct a study on the privacy implications of UAS operations.