Speculations over the new FAA chief and what it could mean for...

Speculations over the new FAA chief and what it could mean for the drone industry


Speculations are rife over who will fill the currently vacant position of FAA administrator. FAA Administrator Michael Huerta left in January after 7 years as the chief and since then Dan Elwell is the Acting Administrator. Elwell wouldn’t be appointed as the head, despite being a top choice of Department of Transportation and a recognized name, as because he doesn’t have the nod of the President.

Wall Street Journal reported that recognizing the absence of any consensus for his candidacy, Elwell himself decided to back down.

Drones and FAA

Drone industry would certainly be anticipating the appointment. The industry would be hoping for lesser regulations yet increased focus on safety.

Elwell famously called drones the ‘Internet of Aviation’ accentuating the fact that drones have potential and would bring in the aviation revolution just like the internet revolutionized the access to information and a lot of services.

Gone by Washington insiders, the man most likely to be appointed as the new FAA Administrator is Steve Dickson, who was a veteran pilot of Delta Airlines and has served as its Senior VP of Global Flight Operations. No official decision has been made on the appointment but Dickson remains the top choice as per insiders.

The FAA administrator has the responsibility of looking after $16 billion dollar budget and thousands of employees. Supervision of the key projects is also a priority area for the administrator. With the passage of the FAA Reauthorization Act of 2018 last month, the priorities of the agency were clearly laid down. It remains to be seen how the new Administrator will work on them and what targets would he set.

Last year, when drone industry leaders met President Trump they said that increased regulations would increase safety and generate new commercial opportunities for beyond visual line-of-sight (BVLOS) operations and operations at night. Congress provided the necessary regulations with the introduction of the Drone Innovation Act of 2017, Drone Federalism Act of 2017, and the Safe DRONE Act of 2017 have been introduced in both houses of Congress.

It was mandated in the National Defense Authorization Act for 2018 that small drone owners have to register their drones with FAA. Afterward FAA mandated that all drone users would have to display the unique identifier number on the drone, which is given by the FAA after the successful registration.

Industry-agency working relationship

It was Huerta who started the trend of broad cooperation between the drone industry and the agency years ago. The mutual cooperation has deepened over the years and has become a keystone of drone policies. Bringing all stakeholders on board has been recognized as important for encouraging the industry, driving innovation and giving a competitive edge to business. Lack of overbearing regulations and more decentralization has led to more growth and created an ecosystem conducive to American drone companies.

Among the major highlights of Huerta’s tenure was absolute federal authority decreasing and accommodating ideas from state governments and specialized programs like Integration Pilot Program (IPP).

Huerta also walked the tightrope between drone industry associations, agencies and the airlines lobby that has always been a proponent of stifling drone regulations.

It is too early to predict what the new FAA chief would have in store for the drone industry, whether he will continue the broad outreach and mutually beneficial industry-agency collaboration approach of his predecessor Huerta or would take a radical break from the past.

But what is for sure is that drone safety would remain a key priority of FAA.