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House hearing asks industry for update on small UAS rule

By Luke Geiver | September 29, 2016

A U.S. House of Representatives subcommittee held a hearing this week on Capitol Hill to learn how well the implementation of the small unmanned aircraft systems rule—Part 107—has gone since its kickoff in August.

The hearing, titled, “Opportunity Rising: the FAA’s New Regulatory Framework for Commercial Drone Operations,” included a handful of representatives and four individuals from the UAS industry: Brian Wynne, president of the Association for Unmanned Vehicles Systems International; Gabriel Dobbs, vice president of business development and policy for Kespry Inc.; Jonathan Daniels, president for Praxis Aerospace Concepts International Inc.; and Lisa Ellman, partner at Hogan Lovells US LLP.

Cresent Hardy, R-Nevada, opened the hearing by saying the Subcommittee on Investigations, Oversight and Regulations was hoping to hear from industry participants on how the rules are impacting UAS-related businesses and their future plans now that the a month has passed since the implementation of Part 107. “I am looking forward to hearing if the new rule is allowing small businesses in the unmanned aircraft industry to make the important strides needed for this sector to continue growing and innovating at a rapid pace,” Hardy said.

In his prepared remarks, Wynne noted the early effect of the rule. “On the first day the rule went into effect, more than 3,300 people had already signed up to take the aeronautical knowledge test, called the Unmanned Aircraft General examination,” adding that of the more than 530,000 people who registered their UAS with the FAA since last December, 20,000 indicated they are commercial operators. Over the next year, Wynne said the FAA expects more than 600,000 UAS to be flying for commercial use.

While every hearing participant agreed that the small rule has helped the industry, each believes the waiver process is crucial to the continued positive movement of the industry. “It [Part 107] was a critical first start and we have seen that the floodgates truly opened,” Ellman said, adding that the waiver process is critical. Through Part 107, operators can apply for a waiver allowing for operations outside of the allowed parameters established, such as flying at night or beyond visual line of sight. “The waiver needs to move at the speed of industry,” Ellman added, telling the Subcommittee that she hopes the FAA will work to streamline the waiver process faster than they had with the 333 process.

“Time will tell if the waiver process is more efficient,” Dobbs said on the topic.

Regardless of the speed of the waiver process, all panelists agreed that the UAS industry is poised for growth.

“There is a tremendous amount of value that gets unlocked through these rules,” Wynne said.

Ellman noted that investor sentiment towards the industry has improved with clarity for regulations finally here and the continued work on privacy concerns by industry stakeholders. “So much of the investment money was held back due to privacy and regulatory concerns,” she said.

When asked about the safety of the industry, Wynne said with more data being collected by both the FAA and the industry on flights, the safety picture is easier to understand. Dobbs outlined several safety features that most UAVs are equipped with today, including geofencing software and in a growing number of cases, sense-and-avoid sensors. The work by NASA to develop the Unmanned Traffic System is also a major step towards a safe airspace, he added.

Daniels said the industry would benefit from some kind of crime stopper hotline designed for use when illegal or inappropriate drone operations were taking place for commercial purposes. The industry does not benefit from bad actors, he explained.

Each presenter also explained future plans and visions for the industry. Daniels explained a droneport under development that can help with scheduled UAS flights. “As we get to delivery and cargo, you will want an airport that is scoped out for UAS,” he explained, citing the use of helipads for landing and/or delivery. He compared droneports to internet cafes used for providing internet services before it was widely available everywhere.

To view a recording of the hearing, click here.