Lawmakers Introduce Bill to Allow UAS Operations in Higher Education

Posted by Betsy Lillian on March 08, 2016 No Comments

U.S. Sens. Gary Peters, D-Mich., and Jerry Moran, R-Kan., have introduced the Higher Education UAS Modernization Act, which would support the operation of unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) by higher education institutions for research and educational purposes and workforce development.

The act would allow students and educators at colleges and universities to operate UAS for educational or research purposes and without obtaining specific approval from the Federal Aviation Administration as long as they meet the following requirements:

  • The institution of higher education adopts a UAS policy and designates a point of contact who is charged with reviewing and approving all flights;
  • Flights must be under the supervision of an experienced operator in command, who will ensure safety;
  • Flights are restricted to 400 feet above ground, cannot cause hazard or harm to persons or property, must be identifiable, cannot survey or create a nuisance on private property, must give right of way to full-scale aircraft, and must operate above sites that are sufficiently far from populated areas;
  • If the UAS is involved in an accident causing injury to a person or property, such accident must be reported to the FAA within 10 days; and
  • If the UAS is to be flown within 5 miles of a major airport or within 2 miles of any other airport or heliport, the UAS operator in command must first obtain permission from air traffic control or, in the case of a small airport or heliport, the airport manager.

According to the senators, the Higher Education UAS Modernization Act is supported by the Association of American Universities, Association of Public and Land-grant Universities, University of Michigan, Michigan State University, Michigan Technological University, Northwestern Michigan College, University of Kansas, Wichita State University, Princeton University, University of Florida, Indiana University, Harvard University, Pennsylvania State University, Duke University, Smith College, University of Missouri System, and South Dakota State University.

“Unmanned aircraft are expected to grow into a multibillion-dollar industry over the next few years, but colleges and universities are training the next generation of unmanned aircraft operators and engineers today,” says Peters.

“I’m proud to introduce this legislation that will help reduce burdensome regulations that stifle innovation and restrict the educational use of drones. By making it easier for students and educators to use unmanned aircraft for research, we will be able to advance new technological applications, develop our workforce and grow our economy,” he continues.

Stephen Hsu, vice president for research and graduate studies at Michigan State University, adds, “MSU welcomes thoughtful congressional attention to the regulatory challenges posed by UAS operations in university research and teaching. An appropriate balance must be struck between regulatory burden relief, aviation safety and the safety and privacy of the general public. The legislation being introduced by Sens. Peters and Moran should initiate important dialogue concerning the responsible conduct of research with these important new tools.”

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