At last week’s CES 2017 in Las Vegas, Michael Huerta, administrator of the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), offered an update on the state of the U.S. unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) sector, as well as how the agency plans to move forward to further grow the industry.
Entitled, “Drones: A Story of Revolution and Evolution,” Huerta’s speech, which was delivered on Friday, emphasized the “revolution in the technology and how it’s being used” and the “evolution in the way [the FAA is] approaching this new entrant into the National Airspace System.”
“Our challenge is to find the right balance where safety and innovation co-exist on relatively equal planes,” he said. “I don’t think it’s an exaggeration to say we have accomplished more toward this goal in the past year than we did in all previous years combined.”
For example, he noted the release of Part 107, the rules for commercial UAS; the establishment of the long-term Drone Advisory Committee, which first met in September and will hold its second meeting in Nevada this month; the work done with NASA to establish a UAS traffic management system; the drone-detection research conducted as part of the Pathfinder Program; and the upcoming redesign of the agency’s website, which will function as a “one-stop-shop for all unmanned aircraft interactions with the FAA,” including registering drones, reporting an accident and applying for an airspace authorization.
Over the past year, Huerta said, over 670,000 drone pilots have registered their aircraft; moreover, this includes more than 37,000 in the last two weeks of December alone.
In addition, he said there could be a whopping 7 million UAS sold in the U.S. by the year 2020. For comparison’s sake, that number equals roughly 2.5 times the population of Nevada.
In addition, in the four months after the Part 107 rules went into effect, Huerta said more than 16,000 people took the remote pilot test, and nearly 90% passed.
Considering “both technology and innovation” are “blazing ahead at warped speed,” he said, “we know that as regulators, we have to lean forward.”
“We have to approach our challenges with the same kind of creativity and open-mindedness that is fueling the drone revolution,” he continued.
In addition, he noted that the FAA must continue to work in “close collaboration and partnership with the industry and those who fly unmanned aircraft for both recreation and commercial purposes.”
“So instead of telling the drone industry and drone operators what they can’t do, we’re helping them do what they want to do – while ensuring they operate safely,” he said, noting the flexibility of the Part 107 rules, which allow operators to apply for additional flight waivers, such as for nighttime operations or flights over people.
Speaking on drone operations beyond Part 107, Huerta said that, yes, the FAA and its partners will develop “more ingenious ways to ensure drones can fly over people without sacrificing safety or security,” as well as regulations that will permit “routine unmanned aircraft operations beyond the pilot’s visual line of sight.” (He said, however, that those will occur “further down the road.”
“The progress that we have made during the past year would have seemed unimaginable not long ago,” he added.
“It’s a great start, but it’s just the beginning. We know there are many important issues yet to be addressed. And we know we can’t do it alone. We will always need the input and expertise of all of our stakeholders, so we can craft the right kinds of policies and solutions to the challenges before us.”