Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, and Congressman Don Young, R-Alaska, have announced companion legislation in both chambers of Congress aimed at urging the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) to create policies for the safe usage of unmanned aerial systems (UAS).
Sen. Murkowski introduced the bipartisan Safe Skies for Unmanned Aircraft Act of 2015 with co-sponsors Heidi Heitkamp, D-N.D., and Ron Wyden, D-Ore., in the Senate. Congressman Young introduced legislation by the same name in the House of Representatives.
“As we see more and more unmanned aircraft in use, it’s critical that we lay out rules of the road – and this bill starts by telling the FAA to get to work,” Murkowski says.
Beyond promoting safety in the air, the bill does the following:
- Opens the door for public-private partnerships to support UAS research, allowing universities to accept research funding from the private sector and saving American taxpayers money; and
- Requires the FAA to remove bureaucratic hurdles to research operations for safe beyond-line-of-sight flying, an important research tool for medium- and long-distance applications.
“One of the most pressing items we discussed last week at the Arctic Encounter Symposium was how unmanned aerial systems can be game-changers for Alaska, to work around our distances and lack of infrastructure,” Murkowski explains. “Arctic research, delivering goods in the Bush, fire-fighting and policing in rural areas are all new possibilities for us, and with the private sector investing in research today, we can all benefit tomorrow.”
Congressman Young adds, “In the last FAA reauthorization, Congress directed the creation of six regional UAS tests sites; however, no funds were set aside to ensure their success. Our legislation will clear significant roadblocks that stand in the way of successful research activities and work to strengthen and empower UAS test sites for the benefit of the FAA and all stakeholders.”
According to the release from Murkowski, the lack of any rules or policies governing UAS was evident in last weekend’s Super Bowl: Because the FAA had no laws to enforce, it was forced to create a “no drone zone” spanning 30 miles in all directions around the stadium – totaling over 2,800 square miles. Rules like those promoted by this bill would help limit such overbroad restrictions.
The Safe Skies for Unmanned Aircraft Act of 2015 aims to redefine how the FAA considers UAS – giving them greater autonomy and opportunities like those seen in commercial aviation.