ROBOTICS AND AUTONOMOUS SYSTEMS
Congressman Slams FAA’s Drone Regulations
ATLANTA — It’s “insanity” that U.S. companies are taking their unmanned aerial vehicle research-and-development dollars to other countries because of stringent Federal Aviation Administration regulations, a congressman said May 6.
“I’ve become very frustrated when I hear the stories especially about U.S. companies taking U.S. jobs and U.S. research and development to another country because we can’t get the approvals to do the work here,” said Rep. Frank LoBiondo, R-N.J., who sits on the House Armed Services Committee. “There’s one word to describe that … and that’s 'insanity.'”
Under the FAA Modernization and Reform Act of 2012, Congress tasked the agency with integrating UAS into the national airspace by September 2015. After missing several deadlines, the agency released in February a proposed small UAS rule — a piece of governance that will guide drone pilots on legal operation.
Despite the delays, LoBiondo noted that he was pleasantly surprised that the proposed regulations were not as strict as they could have been, he said during an address at the Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International Conference. However, “we’re still concerned about how quickly they’re moving.”
The FAA does hand out Section 333 regulatory exemptions, which give approved entities the opportunity to fly legally in the United States under certain circumstances. But the FAA has made the process too convoluted, LoBiondo said.
“It has been pretty frustrating to see the delays and all that’s going into trying to get even the most basic applications approved for testing,” he said. “Now that has moved somewhat as well, but it’s nowhere near where it should be. It’s nowhere near where it can be.”
Because the FAA has been so slow, it has inspired LoBiondo and other lawmakers to push the agency to do more.
“As bad as that situation was and is, it has really helped make some of my colleagues be able to take a two-by-four out so to speak with the FAA and say, ‘This is the worst thing in the world we can possibly imagine. You’ve got to find a way to do this in a different way,’” he said.
While he understood the FAA is focusing on safety and privacy, it has to accept some risk. “If the FAA is going to continue to insist on not near certainty but certainty, then we’re going to be mired down for a long time to come.”
This September, the FAA Reauthorization Bill will be brought before Congress. LoBiondo recommended industry members reach out to lawmakers and explain the various benefits drones can bring to the country.
“Get to know who your member of Congress is. Sit down and talk to them, give them the real world applications [and] let them understand, because they’re thinking safety and security, and you need to go beyond that,” he said. “You need to explain the stories of the issues that will save lives and save property.”
They also need to know about what industry sees as missteps by the FAA. For example, LoBiondo said he learned yesterday that the FAA had recently rejected a request from the Federal Emergency
Management Agency to use a drone for disaster assessment.
He wants the FAA to explain how it could reject an application by a federal agency that would have helped relieve the suffering of U.S. citizens.
“Maybe there is a good explanation [but] I don’t think there is,” he said.