Michael Huerta, administrator of the Federal Aviation Administration told attendees at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas that while it is hard to predict the next technological breakthrough in unmanned aerial systems (UAS), it is a certainty that things will get complicated.  He said FAA predicts 7 million drones will be sold in the US by 2020.  He said that in the last year over 670,000 users registered small UAVs, with over 37,000 registered in the last two weeks of December.

“The pace of change is breathtaking,” said Huerta.  “It seems like someone is coming up with a new way to use drones every day.”  FAA must approach regulatory challenges “with the same kind of creativity and open mindedness as is fueling this drone revolution,” Huerta continued.

Instead of telling drone operators what they can’t do, explained Huerta, the FAA took the position to help them do what they want to do.  To that end, FAA has worked in close collaboration and in partnership with industry and those who fly unmanned aircraft.  “That’s the approach we took with the small unmanned aircraft rule which took effect in August.”

Huerta introduced the topics of flying UAVs at night, over people, and beyond the visual line of sight of the operator, saying operators with a remote pilot certificate can apply for waivers.  Expanding on the restrictions, he noted FAA has been working diligently since spring of 2016 on a rulemaking related to flying drones over people.  “I can give you my steadfast commitment that we are doing all that we can to advance this effort, and we will be looking to our industry partners to work with us to develop more ingenious ways to ensure that drones are able to fly over people without sacrificing safety or security.”

Though he provided less detail about issues related to flying beyond the visual line of sight of the pilot, Huerta said that, “Further down the road we’re going to implement rules that allow routine unmanned aircraft operation beyond the pilot’s visual line of sight.”

With an open-ended timeline on rules related to visual line of sight, Huerta stressed the work done by the Drone Advisory Committee and the importance of engaging stakeholders in the various rules discussions.  One opportunity for wider involvement comes with the Unmanned Aircraft Symposium which will take place in March. 

The symposium will focus on regulations, research, and integration of UAVs and the “Intersection of privacy and preemption,” Huerta said.  “What is an individual’s right of privacy, and what are the roles of government in determining who decides and adjudicates those issues?”