Small business owners told a key Congressional subcommittee today that new federal regulation that allows commercial use of small unmanned aircraft systems, otherwise known as drones or UAS, are opening up the skies and opportunities for new jobs and economic growth. However, effective and efficient implementation of the rule and the Federal Aviation Administration's (FAA) next steps to fully and safely integrate UAS into the national airspace system are critical to the industry's success. The FAA projects that 90 percent of drone owners will be small businesses making clear and sensible regulation essential as these entrepreneurs try to get startups off the ground and improve existing small businesses day-to-day operations through the use of this technology.
"We are bearing witness to the next great aviation renaissance," said Rep. Cresent Hardy, R-NV, Chairman of the House Small Business Committee's Subcommittee on Investigations, Oversight and Regulations. "Advances in technology have cleared the way for a reality that, only a short time ago, was merely a dream."
"From the delivery of goods to the surveying of land, unmanned aircraft systems, otherwise known as UAS or drones, are poised to change how we do business. And with an initial report indicating that an overwhelming majority of companies operating UAS for commercial purposes have 10 employees or less, this industry will truly be a small business industry," Subcommittee Chairman Hardy added.
Commercial Drones Save Time, Money and Lives
"Unmanned aircraft systems, or UAS, increase human potential, allowing us to execute dangerous or difficult tasks safely and efficiently," testified Brian Wynne on behalf of the Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International (AUVSI). "From inspecting pipelines to surveying bridges to filming movies, UAS help save time, save money and, most importantly, save lives. It is no wonder why thousands of businesses--small and large--have already embraced this technology, and many more are considering integrating it into their future operations."
What it Means for Nevada Ranchers, North Carolina Farmers and other Small Businesses
"While we appreciate that Part 107 allows for waivers to operate beyond the visual line of sight (BVLOS) and over people, the FAA's next phase of regulations must provide for even more efficient approval of these types of operations or the United States will fail to develop the robust commercial drone industry that other countries are actively pursuing," added Gabriel Dobbs, the Vice President of Business Development and Policy at Kespry Inc., who testified on behalf of the Small UAV Coalition. "A rancher in Nevada or a farmer in North Carolina cannot fully benefit from drone technology if he must follow his drone in his truck to maintain the visual line of sight while inspecting his property."
Need for Regulatory Improvement
"PACI has been involved in the development of the Eldorado Droneport in Boulder City, Nevada since the summer of 2015. I want to state that we are thankful for the positive support and assistance we are getting from UAS Office and Airports Division. However, during this process, we have encountered some issues as the regulatory structure does not address UAS activity on airports. There is a need for additional regulatory improvements," observed Jonathan H. Daniels of Praxis Aerospace Concepts International, Inc. "Airports are categorized by the number of passenger boardings or by tonnage of cargo- this metric does not work with the current limitations of UAS operation. UAS do not count towards the number of based aircraft, and there are no acceptable standards for traffic patterns for any size UAS."
The development of the new regulatory framework for commercial drones has been of great concern for the House Small Business Committee during the 114th Congress. Chairman Chabot convened a full committee hearing on the topic in July of 2015.
The FAA Modernization and Reform Act of 2012 (2012 Act) provided the FAA with new authority and new mandates to accelerate the safe integration of UAS into the national airspace system.
Section 333 of the 2012 Act authorized certain commercial drone operations on a case-by-case-basis. From September 2014-August 2016, FAA granted 5,552 exemptions, indicating a tremendous amount of early adoption.
The final rule that allows civil operations of small UAS was issued on June 28, 2016 and went into effect on August 29, 2016. Small UAS are those that weigh 55 pounds or less. The rule establishes Part 107, the new regulatory framework for small UAS operations which includes pilot requirements, operational restrictions, and aircraft requirements for commercial purposes.
As of September 20, 2016, the FAA reported that: 6,768 people have taken the test to become a "remote pilot in command" and the test's passage rate is 88 percent; 14,909 remote pilot certificate applications have been submitted through the FAA's website and 10,966 of those certificates have been processed; 552 waiver requests from Part 107 operational requirements have been submitted and 79 approved (those approved since the new rule went into effect were submitted under the old case-by-case process), and zero airspace authorizations have been approved.