Unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) technology is rapidly expanding in capability and popularity, but its evolution will be decelerated if the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) is unable to keep up with the quick pace from a regulatory perspective, according to the Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International (AUVSI).

Brian Wynne, AUVSI president and CEO, recently addressed the U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Oversight and Government Reform regarding the FAA’s notice of proposed rulemaking (NPRM) on small unmanned aircraft systems (sUAS). Wynne’s statement aimed to suggest issues that should be considered and provision ideas for the FAA’s reauthorization bill as its deadline approaches.

“UAS are poised to be one of the fastest-growing industries in American history,” Wynne said. “Conversely, for every year that the UAS integration into the NAS is delayed, the U.S. stands to lose $10 billion in potential economic impact, which translates to a loss of $27.6 million per day.”

Urging the FAA to move as quickly as possible to finalize rules for commercial and public use of UAS technology, Wynne highlighted a set of provisions that the administration should keep in mind. The outline of recommendations posed by AUVSI highlights two areas: accelerating the safe commercial use of UAS and expanding research efforts.

Accelerating Commercial Use

“For the FAA to continue to keep up with the advancement of UAS technology, it needs to develop a risk-based, technology-neutral framework,” Wynne said. By that he said he meant regulations should be based on the risk profile of particular UAS operation instead of solely regulating the platform being flown.

Wynne used the example of low-risk operations, like aerial surveys above rural farmland and operations with micro UAS that weigh less than 4.4 pounds. Regarding qualifying operations as safe, regardless of the specific technology used, would foster a more efficient regulatory environment, he said.  

“By adopting this approach, the FAA can establish a regulatory environment that is able to accommodate any and all UAS technology innovations by using flexible standards rather than continually proposing new rules for different UAS technologies, platforms and operations.”

Another idea Wynne posed is expanding Section 333 of the 2012 FAA reauthorization. “This process can be used to allow for more uses of this technology in the short term by giving the FAA the clear authority to address Section 333 exemption requests for beyond-visual-line-of-sight operations,” Wynne said. “Beyond-visual-line-of-sight operations are crucial to many commercial uses of UAS.”

Expanding Research Efforts

The second provision Wynne offered on behalf of AUVSI is a holistic research plan that, in conjunction with industry collaborators, takes into account the work being done at the FAA and other federal entities. He said it would enable stakeholders to identify UAS areas in need of additional resources and allow the industry to come forward with new solutions.

The plan should also outline government and industry roles, milestones and dates for advancing particular outstanding research needs, he said. “These needs include an operationally deployed UAS traffic management program; resolving UAS spectrum issues; potential barriers to beyond-visual-line-of-sight operations; and defining the roles that specific federal facilities and entities will have in implementation of the plan.”

Another aspect of research that could be improved upon involves FAA UAS test sites, according to Wynne, who said they’re underutilized. He said he’d like to see the industry gain guidance and incentive to better utilize the test sites. “We should consider making the test sites eligible for federal funding under current FAA offices and programs that are engaged with UAS activities.”

Elevating the UAS integration initiative was another talking point of Wynne’s. He said federal efforts to facilitate the integration of UAS into the NAS are at a pivotal moment, and that coordination with industry and government partners is critical to ensure the U.S. gains trailblazer status internationally.

Finally, Wynne touched on the importance of establishing an operational UAS traffic management system to ensure the safe and efficient use of the airspace. “While some initial commercial UAS operations will occur at low levels, this airspace may become complex with established navigation routes, as well as point-to-point route segments, requiring specific equipage requirements.” He shared that a traffic management system would integrate UAS into existing airspace and ensure safety.

“The next several years will be critical to the expansion of UAS technology in the U.S,” Wynne said. “If we are to realize the full potential of this technology and its economic benefits, it is important that the FAA reauthorization bill give the FAA the authority and ability to create regulations that keep up with the rapid advancement of this technology.”

AUVSI supports the safe and responsible integration of UAS in order to unlock the tremendous potential the technology holds while helping to boost local economies and create jobs. An economic impact report from AUVSI found that the UAS industry would add more than 100,000 jobs and $82 billion to the economy in the first 10 years after integration into the national airspace system. The world’s largest nonprofit organization dedicated to the advancement of unmanned systems and robotics, AUVSI represents more than 7,500 members from 60-plus allied countries involved in the fields of government, industry and academia. AUVSI members work in the defense, civil and commercial markets.