Thoughts about Wednesday’s House Aviation Subcommittee hearing on UAS

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The below hearing notice announced that the House Subcommittee on Aviation will hold a hearing on UAS, their integration into the National Airspace System (the ATO’s ability to keep them separated from historical traffic) and the FAA’s ability to surveil this new fleet of smaller aircraft. Finally, as shown in the Summary of Subject Matter memorandum, the Members will compare the FAA’s progress with foreign aviation authorities.

What hath Congress wrought with the FAA Modernization and Reform Act of 2012 (FMRA) Title III, Subtitle B, §§ 331-336? The FAA has been trying to implement those statutory provisions since that year. Some in the existing airline and GA sectors have expressed concerns about how the UAS vehicles can be integrated by the FAA into the NAS. Everyone, who is excited about the commercial prospects of this new burgeoning business, has made their displeasure with the FAA’s all deliberate speed known, repeatedly. Senators and Representatives have voiced their opinions on both sides of the issue.

This hearing will engage the regulator, Peggy Gilligan of the FAA, the regulated (ALPA and a company) and the ever present experts (DoT IG, GAO and a professor from MIT). The hearing memorandum makes it clear that the Members:

· will inquire about the FAA’s progress, or lack thereof;

· will ask how the technology is emerging;

· are interested in the increased reports of UAS’ near airports and planes;

· will examine the impact of the NTSB full Board decision on Pirker;

· will ascertain the potential impact of UAS on the economy; and

· will compare the FAA’s challenges and progress with the foreign aviation authorities.

That should fill several volumes of HR Reports, but it will be interesting to see if any of the Members try to give direction to the FAA to continue on at their current pace or expedite their actions. Given the public outcry (read: voters) about the FAA’s position in Pirker, there is a high likelihood that one or more Member(s) will assert that the FAA’s interpretation of what constitutes an “aircraft” is not what Congress intended (or affirm that the legal position is correct).

The InTheCapital blog, the writer adds some dimensions to the likely critics will try to convince their favorite Member to grill the FAA. Several groups which have hired lobbyists are mentioned.

The piece by Mark Dombroff of McKenna Long & Aldridge answers questions posed by a 5 Senators to Administrator Huerta. His answers are so spot on that Chairman LoBiondo might help the Subcommittee’s deliberations. The ultimate message is comparable to Green Bay’s QB Aaron Rodgers, who appropriately told fans to (r….e….l….a….x).

The last article referenced below posits the example of Transport Canada’s UAS policy, which was premised on a risk analysis. The author argues that §336 of FMRA mitigates for such a review. While not all of the report of the FAA’s Aviation Regulatory Committee on Small Unmanned Aircraft Systems are public (also true of the large UAS ARC), there are frequent references in its Final Recommendations to subjecting the various standards proposed to rigorous risk analysis. A question to Ms. Gilligan at Wednesday’s hearing might confirm that supposition and might convey to the critics reasons to have confidence in the FAA’s proposals.

Wednesday should be a useful examination of issues of great interest to all involved in UAS and traditional aviation!

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