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    Congress Thinks the FAA Is 'Not Well Positioned' to Regulate Drones

    Written by

    Jason Koebler

    Staff Writer

    Image: John Biehler/Flickr

    Piling on to the Federal Aviation Administration's troubles with drone regulation, Congress doesn't believe the FAA is capable of sticking to its own timetable for implementing new drone rules.

    When Congress passed the Federal Aviation Administration Modernization and Reform Act of 2012, it asked the FAA to expedite the integration of drones into the National Airspace System by 2015. Given the many complications the agency has faced since then, most in the industry think they'll miss those deadlines—and it appears Congress does too.

    A new report from the House of Representatives Appropriations Committee suggests lawmakers are "concerned that the FAA may not be well positioned to manage effectively the introduction of UAS in the United States" and that many in Congress believe the FAA will miss its deadline. They specifically note that the task has been complicated by the recent National Transportation Safety Board ruling that commercial drones are at least temporarily legal.

    That's created a rare situation where Congress is proposing to appropriate more money for unmanned aircraft research than the agency even requested: The Appropriations Committee budget bill will give $10,974,000 to the FAA for "Unmanned Aircraft Systems Research"—it only requested $8,974,000. In addition, it will provide "an additional $3 million in the Aviation Safety Activity to expedite the integration of UAS into commercial airspace." 

    Going forward, the report suggests that the FAA needs to develop an "integrated budget for UAS in the fiscal year 2016 budget request that clearly identifies research and development needs and the requirements for air traffic control systems and operations."

    Here's the full language relating to drones in the report.

    Unmanned aircraft systems (UAS).—The FAA Modernization and Reform Act of 2012 directed the FAA to integrate UAS into the National Airspace System by 2015. However, it is uncertain when the FAA can integrate UAS into the Nation’s airspace and what will be required to achieve the goal. The lack of an overall framework for the new systems may be inhibiting progress on UAS integration. The Committee is concerned that the FAA may not be well positioned to manage effectively the introduction of UAS in the United States, particularly in light of a recent ruling by a National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) administrative judge regarding the use of a small UAS for commercial purposes. Given these challenges, the Committee has provided an additional $3,000,000 in the Aviation Safety Activity to expedite the integration of UAS into commercial airspace.

    UAS budgeting.—The Committee understands that UAS have very different operating characteristics, communications and flight planning system requirements than traditional air traffic operations. However, the resource requirements for integrating UAS into airspace and the corresponding impacts on the FAA’s capital and operating budgets remains unclear. The Committee directs the FAA to develop an integrated budget for UAS in the fiscal year 2016 budget request that clearly identifies research and development needs and the requirements for air traffic control systems and operations.

    Unmanned aerial systems (UAS) research.—The FAA has established six UAS test sites, which are expected to provide valuable information for developing the regulatory framework for UAS integration. However, the FAA will need to develop a comprehensive plan to identify research priorities, including how data from test site operations will be gathered, analyzed, and used. The Committee recognizes these challenges and provides $10,974,000 for UAS research, which is $2,000,000 above the budget request. These additional funds are provided to help meet the FAA’s UAS research goals of system safety and data gathering, aircraft certification, command and control link challenges, control station layout and certification, sense and avoid, and environmental impacts.

    Topics: drones, commercial drones, FAA, politics, congress, power

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