The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) reauthorization bill – the FAA Extension, Safety, and Security Act of 2016 – has now been passed by both the House and Senate and is headed to the president’s desk.
U.S. Sen. John Thune, R-S.D., chair of the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation, says the bill passed yesterday in the Senate by a vote of 89-4. It passed unanimously in the House earlier this week.
According to Thune, the bill – which will provide important, time-sensitive safety and security improvements to the U.S. aviation system, including for unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) – awaits the president’s signature before the FAA’s reauthorization deadline this Friday.
The House and Senate came to an agreement on the bill last week. According to a summary jointly released, UAS provisions include as follows: “Streamlines processes for approval and interagency cooperation to deploy unmanned aircraft during emergencies, such as disaster responses and wildfires; prohibits unmanned aircraft users from interfering with emergency response activities, including wildfire suppression, and raises civil penalties to not more than $20,000 for those found in violation; and creates new processes to detect, identify and mitigate unauthorized operation of unmanned aircraft around airports and critical infrastructure.”
Brian Wynne, president and CEO of the Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International (AUVSI), says in a statement, “This FAA extension will provide short-term stability for the commercial UAS industry. Its provisions will help expand commercial operations, advance research and keep the airspace safe for all users – manned and unmanned.”
“Notably, the bill calls for the creation of a comprehensive UAS research and development roadmap, something our organization has long championed to coordinate industry and government R&D initiatives. The bill also outlines a pilot program for unmanned traffic management (UTM) and expands the Section 333 exemption process to allow for beyond line of sight operations – both long-standing AUVSI priorities,” he adds.
Wynne says although the bill will offer “some short-term stability,” Congress must pass longer-term legislation next year in order to “set the industry and the country on a glide path to reap all of the benefits of UAS. “
“The extension is a good start, and AUVSI is hopeful that the measures contained within it will pave the way for a true, holistic plan for full UAS integration that goes further and higher, including beyond-line-of-sight operations, flights over people, access to higher altitudes and platforms above 55 pounds.”