"AUVSI Xponential Remarks"
Michael Huerta, New Orleans
May 4, 2016
Thank you, Miles O'Brien, for that. Its great to be in New Orleans. It’s great to be here in The BigEasy, and I sincerely thank you for inviting me to join you here today.
You know, a couple of weeks ago I was out in Daytona Beach, Florida to speak at our UAS Symposium that we co-hosted with Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University. I remarked at that time – I know many of you were there that we are getting to know so well – that Unmanned Aircraft System events are starting to feel a little bit like family reunions.
Well, we all know that hasn't always been the case. The last time I was on this stage, was back in 2012, and at that time I felt a little more like I was walking into a lion's den than into the warmth of a family reunion.
We’ve come a long way from where we were just a handful of years ago. If we think about it, in 2012, thousands – rather than hundreds of thousands – of drones were being sold annually. There were no UAS incidents that had been reported near any airports in the country. Nobody was shooting at a drone that had flown over their backyard, and nobody was flying a drone into trees at the White House.
Now, fast forward to the present. A few weeks ago, we announced in our annual forecast, and you heard it from Miles, that the combined sales of hobbyist and commercial drones could surge from 2.5 million aircraft this year to a staggering 7 million in 2020.
Drones, we all know, are changing the way countless jobs are done, from movie filming and real estate marketing to agricultural mapping and smokestack inspections.
And the innovation in this field is speeding forward at a breakneck pace. When you compare it to [manned] aviation, consider this: the development schedule for a new type of commercial airliner is every 15 to 20 years. If you’re an aerospace engineer, you’re considered extremely lucky if you have two new jets come out during the course of your career.
The drone development schedule, by contrast, is so compressed that new products are flying out of the design studio and into factories at the blink of an eye. Drone development is to manned aircraft development the same as Twitter is to traditional communications.
Yet there are some remarkable parallels between what’s going on today and what was going on a half a century ago.
Back then, the nation was captivated by the idea of sending a man to the moon, and many of the brightest kids coming out of college, their dream was to work at NASA. Today, many of the country’s bright young minds are captivated by the virtually limitless possibilities that the unmanned aircraft industry is offering, and are entering aviation through this exciting new field.
Now, dreaming up new uses for unmanned aircraft may not be to some as sexy or dramatic as locking men in a capsule and firing them off into space. And the jury is still out on whether the geniuses who incrementally conquer UAS integration roadblocks will attain the icon status of a Neil Armstrong or Buzz Aldrin.
But, like the space exploration of the 1960s, the work we are doing today is transforming aviation – and its transforming society – in very profound ways.
You probably know by now that when I use the term "we," I'm not just talking about the FAA. I'm talking about all of us who are in this together. Our progress is the result of partnership and it’s the result of collaboration.
And this has occurred because we found that, despite our sometimes different viewpoints, the FAA and the industry come from essentially the same place: we all view safety as our top priority. And the safe integration of unmanned aircraft is a goal we’re committed to pursuing together.
Now, there are many building blocks in a collaborative relationship. A willingness to set aside ego. To sometimes disagree. To recognize other viewpoints are just as valid as the one you might have. And to put aside differences in the pursuit of a common goal. But the most important element in a collaborative relationship is trust.
The FAA and industry have come to understand that we both come from a safety-first perspective. And we recognize that we have to find the right balance to support safe integration without stifling innovation.
We realize that we need to be flexible. To be willing to look at challenges from different angles. And to evolve in our approach because the world around us is evolving at warp speed. And to stop moving at the speed of government.
Now, the list of our shared accomplishments is well documented by now. Robust UAS test sites, where groundbreaking research is being conducted.
The Pathfinder program, through which our partners are researching operations over people, beyond line of sight operations and technologies that can detect UAS around airports.
The Know Before You Fly educational campaign. The Section 333 program, through which we now have approved more than 5,100 commercial UAS operations.
And, of course, unmanned aircraft registration and the Micro UAS Aviation Rulemaking Committee.
Registration was an ambitious goal for all of us, and some people were skeptical when we announced the undertaking last October. Two months later, because of the diligent and selfless work of a very diverse task force, we had a fully functional, easy to use, web-based registration system.
And today, more than 443,000 hobbyists have registered their drones, and that means we have reached that many people with our safety message. And we recently expanded the system so commercial operators can register online rather than use the legacy paper-based system.
The registration task force worked so well that we all said, “what else can we work on”. So we formed the Micro UAS Aviation Rulemaking Committee to look at how certain drones could be safely flown over people.
In just three weeks, that committee put together a thoughtful and comprehensive report, which will help shape a new rule.
And by late spring, we plan to finalize Part 107, our small UAS rule, which will allow for routine commercial drone operations and eliminate the need for most Section 333 exemptions. This will make it a lot easier to operate in the National Airspace System.
Other milestones are occurring on a regular basis, too. Last month, for example, we authorized the first commercial drone flight at night. We granted that authorization to Industrial Skyworks USA, a company based in Ohio that uses drones for industrial inspections.
And earlier today, we took another important step forward in safely increasing drone operator access to the National Airspace System. We issued this morning a legal interpretation that allows students to operate unmanned aircraft as part of their coursework.
And what this means students won’t need a Section 333 exemption or any other authorization to fly. And their faculty will be able to use drones in connection with helping their students with their courses.
Schools and universities are incubators for tomorrow’s great ideas, and we think this is going to be a significant shot in the arm for innovation.
But as significant as these advances are, it's reasonable to think they will seem quaint in a couple of years, just like that first MAC computer seems quaint to us today.
As hard as we have worked to set the integration process in motion, realistically we all know that our work has just begun. And the reality is that we have been plucking the low-hanging fruit.
So now, the time has come for us to focus more of our energies on the bigger challenges.
Challenges such as command and control. Detect and avoid. Aircraft and operator certification. How spectrum will factor into integration, and how frequencies will be managed and allotted.
To tackle these challenges in a methodical and orderly manner, we have identified three high-level UAS strategic priorities.
Not surprisingly, the first of these is to safely enabling UAS operations in the National Airspace System. The emphasis is safely.
Second is adaptability. We want to create an environment in which emerging technology can be safely and rapidly introduced.
And third is global leadership. We’re looking to shape the global standards and practices for unmanned aircraft through international collaboration.
These priorities form the backbone of a comprehensive strategic plan that we have developed for UAS integration, which we expect to unveil soon.
Now achieving these more challenging objectives requires us to embark on a new phase of the collaboration that has proven to be so successful. The way I see it, our recent UAS symposium really marked the start of that process.
Those of you who were there know that I made some requests of, and challenges to, our stakeholders.
I said that as we progress on integration, we're always going to tell you what we are thinking and where we are learning. But it's very important that we hear your raw and unedited perspectives on what we're doing.
After we authorized Industrial Skyworks to conduct night time drone operations, the company’s president, Michael Cohen, commented that “the FAA is trending in the right direction.”
That’s great to hear. But while it's always nice to receive affirmation that we're on the right track, we don't expect – nor do we want you to always agree with us.
That’s because disagreement can be a source of strength, and the key thing is for everyone to hear what others are thinking. We have a lot of bright people who work at the FAA, but we know that we don't have all the answers.
We need to have a pipeline so the bright minds of our stakeholders can channel their ideas directly to us.
And it’s important that we hear not just from industry. We must all recognize there are other perspectives to integration, such as privacy and security.
The FAA is engaged with the Department of Homeland Security's interagency efforts to address the unique challenges that safe UAS integration present to the security community.
We are also part of the National Telecommunications and Information Administration's multi-stakeholder process to make sure privacy concerns are addressed during integration.
And ultimately, the government as a whole must balance the different perspectives and interests on these important issues.
Now as I said a moment ago, we requested unvarnished feedback from all of our stakeholders at our symposium – and boy, did we receive it.
And sometimes that feedback identified areas of disagreement. For example:
We heard that we should fight attempts by local governments to pass laws that regulate drone use because a patchwork of laws is unsafe and unacceptable.
We also heard that we should allow local governments to make decisions that best serve the needs of their communities.
But we also heard we need to become ever more nimble – and not held back by traditional rigid approaches – when it comes to things like aircraft and pilot certification or airspace access issues.
And we were advised to consider that there may be more than one solution to a particular integration challenge.
We heard we need to move toward performance-based system of standards for unmanned aircraft, rather than one-size-fits-all, prescriptive standards.
We heard that we need to find better ways to collect and analyze operational and safety data that we get from industry, and that industry has to find better ways to get that data to us.
Now that kind of advice is incredibly valuable. In fact, it’s critical to our ability to achieve that perfect balance between integration and safety.
And so to that end, I have some news to announce: we are establishing a broad-based drone advisory committee that will advise us on key unmanned aircraft integration issues.
UAS innovation is moving at the speed of Silicon Valley. So it only makes sense that we asked a Silicon Valley leader to help us with this important step.
I have asked Intel CEO Brian Krzanich to chair this group. Brian has a deep personal interest in unmanned aircraft and a passion for leveraging technology responsibly.
He is also a pilot and he understands the breadth and the variety of the users of our airspace.
Now, we’ve had excellent success with the speedy work done by the UAS registration task force and the MicroUAS aviation rulemaking committee.
But those were set up for a single purpose and for limited duration.
The drone advisory committee, by contrast, is intended to be a long-lasting group that will essentially serve the same purpose as the FAA’s NextGen Advisory Committee, or NAC as it’s better known.
The NAC has helped the FAA hone in on improvements that mean the most to the industry and has helped build broad support for our overall direction.
And we envision the drone advisory panel playing the same role on UAS integration, including helping us prioritize our work. Now, we know that our policies and overall regulation of this segment of aviation will be more successful if we have the backing of a strong, and a diverse coalition.
We’ve initiated discussions with RTCA to help us develop the drone advisory committee roster. RTCA will serve as the point of contact for would-be members and has been asked to support the drone advisory committee similar to their role with the NAC.
And we expect we’ll be able to talk in more detail about the panel in the coming weeks. And we also expect that we’ll have a formal name for it by then as well.
One suggestion was to call it the Advisory Committee for Drone Coordination, which would give it the acronym of "AC/DC." We checked. Apparently, there's a rock and roll band with that name. Who knew?
I fully expect the committee – regardless of what we end up calling it – will be a leap forward in our collaborative approach. But, as I said at our symposium, collaboration is something I see as a two-way street.
It’s not just about the FAA listening to your ideas about what we should or shouldn’t do – although that’s valuable.
Safety is a shared responsibility in which each one of us has a vital role. And as stakeholders, in addition to innovating, you must pour some of your energy toward developing safety solutions of your own.
Because innovation brings with it limitless possibilities, our work to safely integrate unmanned aircraft will, realistically, never be done.
But I have always believed that any problem can be solved by intelligent people working together in pursuit of a common goal.
I’m confident we’ll meet tomorrow’s challenges through cooperation, collaboration, through respect and through trust – and, above all else, a commitment to being creative in our thinking and flexible in our approaches.
So again, thank you for having me here today.