Reading between the lines of House Aviation Subcommittee on UAS Safety

Share this article: FacebooktwitterlinkedinFacebooktwitterlinkedin

Ensuring Aviation Safety in the Era of Unmanned Aircraft Systems
2167 Rayburn House Office Building
Wednesday, October 07, 2015 @ 10:00

This is a hearing of the Subcommittee on Aviation
Summary of Subject Matter

Witness List:

  • Michael G. Whitaker, Deputy Administrator, Federal Aviation Administration | Written Testimony
  • James Hubbard, Deputy Chief, State and Private Forestry, United States Forest Service | Written Testimony
  • Captain Tim Canoll, President, Air Line Pilots Association | Written Testimony
  • Rich Hanson, Director of Government and Regulatory Affairs, Academy of Model Aeronautics | Written Testimony
  • Dr. Mykel Kochenderfer, Professor of Aeronautics and Astronautics | Written Testimony

Calling this Congressional event a “hearing” is a bit of a misnomer. The statements of the Representatives are frequently platitudinous- lofty sentences with little substance and rarely imparting what might be considered as an indication of policy direction. The testimony of the federal witnesses is the end product of multiple reviews by layers of policy gurus within the Administration; the text literally embodies the term “politically correct.” It is rare to see a sentence spoken by an executive branch member which articulates some provocative thought.

The lawyers and lobbyists who are scribes for the private witnesses are conversant with the current preferred vocabulary of politics. They are sufficiently gifted in ambiguous words so as to satisfy, at least superficially, all of the known positions of key Members, even though that continuum from black to white. Another approach to non-government testimony, particularly the trade associations, is to use this stage to speak to your members, to aggressively articulate their most strident views. Such posturing increases the likelihood that the press, in all of its forms, will quote you in their stories.

The most important goal of trade associations is to be there. Such an invitation demonstrates your clout to your dues layers and your peers.

So what of significance can be gleaned from what happened there and perhaps more insightfully, what didn’t occur there?

hhhThe President of ALPA established a strong bunker against risk— proposing thoughtful and conservative regulatory boundaries around drones. The Director of Government and regulatory Affairs of the Academy of Model Aeronautics was protective of his Members flying and then debunked the FAA’s report of near misses between UASs and aircraft. The Committee heard from an academic, dubbed “Dr. K” by one of the Congressmen, then gave some parameters to assessing the safety risks:

  • Measure/ analyze
  • Technologies/policies to mitigate risk
  • Severity and likelihood of risks
  • Categories of users
    • Conscientious
    • Naive
    • Reckless, and
    • Bad Actors

In that he denied that he was a policy expert, he had no definitive recommendations, but made his “availability” known for future questions.

The unsaid:

  • Every Member, who made an opening statement or asked questions, mentioned SAFETY; however, none provided any specific guidance as to where on the safety-economics/freedom/entrepreneurship/innovation continuum the FAA should establish it policy point of equilibrium.
  • Dewhitakerputy Administrator Whitaker reviewed a long list of initiatives which the FAA is vigorously pursuing to enhance drone safety. He did not mention specific schedules or deadlines. While he did express that the “basic operational” rules and “risk-based” approach will provide great flexibility for the future(?), his presentation failed to provide solutions for these pressing concerns:
    • How the FAA’s languorous NPRM process can ever keep pace with the speed of innovation?
      • Since regulation must lag technology, is there some change which will allow revisions to be in place more quickly?
      • By definition, the FAA is risk adverse in its safety functions. Entrepreneurship thrives on risk. Is there any possible way in which new developments can be incorporated into the FAA’s regulatory regime in anticipation of its benefits- like sense and avoid.
    • How can the FAA convince Drone Nation that there is a likelihood of enforcement? This was a highly visible and covered venue; announcing of the record $1.9M civil penalty would have reverberated in the UAS community if made from Capitol Hill! The Members seemed open to discuss reactions to the bad actors, but the Deputy Administrator neither mentioned new sanction authority OR the need for more staff to I catch the bad guys.
  • Who was not there? The single most vocal critic of the FAA in all of its inadequacies has been AUVSI. The aggressively lobbying team has been extremely dissatisfied with the government’s inability to incorporate the economic potential in its decisions. Its pleadings have offered few positive safety solutions. Maybe it was because AUVSI was at its convention or maybe the T&I staff had low expectations that this group would have much in the way of contributions to the hearing’s subject?

What was unsaid signaled, perhaps, that Congress is satisfied with the FAA’s efforts to prioritize safety. Members, from both sides of the aside, were unanimous in their condemnation of the bad actors. Some tragic accident caused by someone who feels above the law is the biggest threat to the future growth of the UAS industry, or so all who spoke at the hearing said.

Share this article: FacebooktwitterlinkedinFacebooktwitterlinkedin

Be the first to comment on "Reading between the lines of House Aviation Subcommittee on UAS Safety"

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published.