"Small UAS NPRM Press Call"
Michael Huerta, Press call
February 15, 2015

Conference call

As Delivered

Thank you, Mr. Secretary.  Today’s proposed rule is the next step in our continuing efforts to integrate unmanned aircraft systems into our nation’s airspace.

As you heard from the Secretary, we’ve made a lot of progress. Last year, we published a comprehensive plan and road map to safely integrate unmanned aircraft; and we also opened six test sites across the country for research on unmanned aircraft; we approved the first ever commercial operations in the Arctic; and we have granted more than two dozen exemptions for commercial use of unmanned aircraft in domestic airspace.

Today’s proposed rule is a big step forward in outlining the framework that will govern the use of small unmanned aircraft weighing less than 55 pounds. This proposed rule offers a very flexible framework that provides for the safe use of small unmanned aircraft, while also accommodating future innovation in the industry.

As you heard from the Secretary, this technology offers many potential benefits to society. Due to the size of a small unmanned aircraft, we envision that these aircraft could be used for a wide variety of activities, particularly those that might be considered dangerous.

Under this proposed rule, these aircraft could inspect utility towers, antennas, bridges, power lines and pipelines in hilly or mountainous terrain. Academic institutions could use them for educational purposes or to pursue research and development. Small unmanned aircraft could also support wildlife conservation, or be used to monitor crops.  They can help with search and rescue and they can be used to shoot scenes for films and television.  And of course there is a lot of interest in using them to take aerial photographs for real estate purposes. In many cases unmanned aircraft can do these tasks with less risk than a manned aircraft that might have to fly in dangerous terrain or in bad weather. And, in some cases an unmanned aircraft could conduct inspections more safely than a worker who would need to, for example, climb a tower.

As a reminder, what we are releasing today is a proposed rule. It is not a final rule. Today’s action does not authorize wide spread commercial use of unmanned aircraft. That can only happen when the rule is final. In the meantime, operators must still go through the current process for a waiver or exemption to fly.

Also, this proposed rule does not affect those who want to fly model aircraft as a hobby or for recreation. They already can – you simply need to fly according to our model aircraft guidelines. The FAA’s unmanned aircraft website has a lot of good information on how to fly your model aircraft safely.

As the Secretary said, safety is always our number one priority. This proposed rule makes sure that we are protecting other aircraft, as well as people and property on the ground. I’d like to go over these safety provisions.

The proposed rule accommodates aircraft up to 55 pounds, operating at speeds of up to 100 mph and up to 500 feet in altitude. This keeps these small unmanned aircraft away from manned aircraft that usually fly at higher altitudes. Also unmanned flights would be restricted near airports and in certain airspace unless air traffic control gives permission. This is to provide a buffer between manned and unmanned aircraft.

This proposal would allow operations during daylight hours and would require the operator to be able to see the unmanned aircraft at all times.

Rather than requiring a private pilot’s license, we propose that operators obtain a newly created FAA unmanned aircraft operator’s certificate by passing a knowledge test focusing on the rules of the air. The operator must renew their certificate every two years by passing a written proficiency test.  And before each flight, operators would conduct a preflight inspection, just as pilots do with manned aircraft today.

These small unmanned vehicles pose the least amount of risk to our airspace and therefore, the rule would allow these aircraft to operate without the need for an airworthiness certificate. Such a certificate could take a manufacturer between three and five years to obtain.  With the pace of innovation in the market, an unmanned aircraft could very well be outdated by the time it obtained a certificate. Therefore, no airworthiness certificate is needed. However, these aircraft must operate under a clear set of parameters to maintain safety, as I mentioned.

The proposed rule also invites comments on a number of provisions so that we can determine the appropriate standards.   Particularly, we ask the question of whether there should be a category and special rules for “micro unmanned aircraft” – those that weigh 4.4 pounds, or 2 kilograms, or less. We are asking the public to comment on whether such a category – and different rules governing them – should be included in the final rule.

The proposed rule will be on the FAA’s website and goes into greater detail on all of these provisions.

The unmanned aircraft industry is expanding greatly and this technology has the capability to dramatically change the way we use our nation’s airspace. We have been working tirelessly to address all the special characteristics of unmanned flight so that we can safely expand the use of these innovative aircraft in routine operations across the country. Today’s proposed rule is a milestone in that effort. We are doing everything that we can to safely integrate these aircraft while ensuring that America remains the leader in aviation safety and technology.

So thank you for joining us today, and I’d like to pass it back to Secretary Foxx.