US: The committee charged with advising federal regulators on the emerging drone industry will focus on the best rules for unmanned flights beyond operators’ lines of sight, safety certifications for drones and drone pilots, whether and when federal rules should trump state or local regulations, and the security of drone software and hardware.
The Federal Aviation Administration’s Drone Advisory Committee gathered Friday for its inaugural meeting in a crowded auditorium at the Center for Strategic & International Studies in Washington.
The fault lines among the 35 leaders of private industry, trade groups and government on the committee were apparent from nearly the beginning of the daylong session, but officials stressed that the goal of Friday’s meeting was to come up with a to-do list.
By the end of Friday’s meeting, members had agreed to form two “ad hoc” committees, one dedicated to questions of privacy and federal pre-emption, the other on “filling in the blanks” that will allow drone operators greater access to American airspace.
The idea is to find further questions that can be tackled by subcommittees — questions that will lead, ultimately, to concrete proposals that will help federal officials strike the right regulatory balance between innovation and safety.
Nearly 13,000 waiver applications have flooded the FAA since the agency’s new Part 107 rules took effect Aug. 29, officials said at Friday’s meeting, and the FAA is expected to wrap up a rulemaking in December, governing unmanned flights over people.
Yet the committee’s members were divided about whether regulators are moving too slowly in getting a handle on the drone industry, according to the results of an internal, committee survey made public during Friday’s meeting.
That might be okay, too, FAA Administrator Michael Huerta told the group.
“We hear from pilots all the time” about the potential dangers of drones in America’s airspace, he said. “We also hear from those of you who say, ‘You’re holding us back.’”
“We intentionally brought these distinct cultures together, and I’m not going to spend any time trying to convince you to change your mind. But what I’m asking you to do is to consider that you have very distinct viewpoints, and balance those viewpoints.
“A safety culture is by definition a cautious culture, because no one wants to screw up that safety record,” Huerta said. “The culture of drones, though, is an innovation culture. What we want to use the advisory committee to do is to have a public forum where these issues can be debated, they can be discussed and play a significant role in this societal evolution of what do we, as a country, want.”
It’s essential, Huerta said, that the committee come up with concrete guidance for regulators soon.