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Speech – "Utah Drone Symposium"

"Utah Drone Symposium"
Angela Stubblefield, Utah
August 12, 2016

Utah Drone Symposium

Good morning, and thank you for inviting me to speak with you today. The last time I had the opportunity to come to Utah was during the 2002 Winter Olympics when I was an FAA intelligence analyst working in the FBI’s Olympic Intelligence Watch Center. I appreciate the chance to come back to your beautiful state.

When I was here in 2002, Unmanned Aircraft Systems–at least of the size, variety and capability that we see today–were not on our radar in domestic civil aviation safety and security.

Today, however, highly automated unmanned aircraft come in all shapes and sizes. Unmanned aircraft can range in weight from a few grams to thousands of pounds, and can operate at altitudes from near surface to the edge of space. Some can remain aloft for only a few minutes, and others for days.

As varied as these designs are, their potential uses are even greater.

Once the domain of either the Department of Defense or remote control model aircraft enthusiasts, unmanned aircraft today spark excitement among hobbyists, businesses, critical infrastructure owners, and public sector entities such as law enforcement and firefighters.

Unmanned aircraft are transforming industries – providing filmmakers with a fresh angle on the world, and giving first responders a new tool for search-and-rescue operations.

They’re improving the safety of our transportation infrastructure – inspecting miles of rail tracks and pipelines that crisscross our country.

And they’re tackling jobs that can be dangerous for people or other aircraft to do, such as smokestack and power line inspections.

As with any new technology, unmanned aircraft bring both opportunities and risks—both in safety and security.

We need to incorporate unmanned aircraft and their users into a shared culture of safety, security and responsible operation.

We’ve found that the best way to accomplish this is to partner with a wide range of government, aviation, and technology stakeholders, which is one reason I am here today.

America has the most complex airspace in the world – and it’s the FAA’s job to ensure the safety and efficiency of the National Airspace System for the flying public and everyone who wants to use it. We also have a duty to protect national and homeland security, and we must work closely with our security and law enforcement partners at the federal, state, and local levels.

Today, I would like to talk about what the FAA is doing–along with our partners in industry, government, and user communities–to address safety and security concerns associated with increasing unmanned aircraft activity in the National Airspace System, and indeed around the world.

The array of safety and security risks ranges from users who do not understand the obligations of safe and compliant operations in the National Airspace System to those who do not care for FAA constraints and restrictions to the actual bad actors, such as criminals and terrorists, who seek to use unmanned aircraft as a means to do harm to people or property. 

Similarly, there is a broad range of mitigation techniques that can be used to address these risks. These range from education and public awareness efforts, to grounding manned aircraft or vectoring them away from unmanned aircraft operating in the area, to using technologies that assist law enforcement in locating the non-compliant operator or removing the unmanned aircraft from specific operating areas.

In all of our efforts, our partnerships are key. We’re receiving valuable input on regulations, and building consensus around public education campaigns. And it’s helping us make substantial progress on safely integrating unmanned aircraft into our airspace.

We saw this firsthand when an industry task force developed recommendations that helped the FAA create a drone registration system in just a matter of weeks last fall. And in the eight months since the system went live, more than 500,000 hobbyists have registered their unmanned aircraft.

To put that in perspective, we only have 320,000 registered manned aircraft – and it took us 100 years to get there.

Registration of unmanned aircraft, whether operated commercially or for hobby, gives us a direct connection to these unmanned aircraft owners both initially and on a recurring basis. It allows us to educate users about rules, accountability and responsibility for safe operation. It encourages unmanned aircraft owners to become part of the safety culture that has been deeply embedded in traditional manned aviation for more than a century.

Registration also can assist us with enforcement by allowing us to connect a drone with its operator in cases where people aren’t following the rules.

To identify new ways to make the registration process easier, we are working to support potential third-party applications, such as smart phone apps, that could enable manufacturers or retailers to scan a code on a drone and automatically register it.

We’re also encouraging operators to download our free smartphone app, B4UFLY, which lets you know where it’s safe and legal to fly a drone. It’s available for both Apple and Android devices, and it’s already been downloaded more than 85,000 times.

We continue to expand our ongoing “No Drone Zone” campaign to remind people to leave their unmanned aircraft at home during major public events like the Super Bowl and most recently the political conventions in Cleveland and Philadelphia.

In addition to educating hobbyists, we’re putting a regulatory framework in place to address the commercial use of drones.

On August 29th, our first regulation to enable routine commercial use of small unmanned aircraft takes effect.

It allows unmanned aircraft weighing less than 55 pounds to fly within visual line of sight, up to 400 feet high, and up to 100 miles per hour during daylight hours. This rule is designed to allow commercial and other non-hobby drone operations while minimizing safety risks to other aircraft, as well as people and property on the ground. And it will provide an important regulatory foundation for allowing additional operations in the future.

However, you still can’t fly a small unmanned aircraft over anyone who is not directly participating in the operation or under a covered structure or stationary vehicle. But we’re working on that, and toward that end, we hope to propose a rule on unmanned aircraft operations over people by the end of this year.

Despite our progress on integration, we know our work has just begun.

So we established a Drone Advisory Committee that will be chaired by Intel CEO Brian Krzanich. This Committee will help us prioritize our unmanned aircraft integration activities, including the development of future regulations and policies. It will include representatives from across the aviation spectrum, and we’ll be announcing the members soon.

We’re also chartering an Unmanned Aircraft Safety Team that will include a wide variety of stakeholders from the drone and aviation industries. Similar to the highly successful Commercial Aviation Safety Team, this group will analyze safety data to identify emerging threats that drones may pose to aircraft, people, and property. It will also develop mitigation strategies to address these threats and prevent future accidents.

The creation of the Unmanned Aircraft Safety Team and the Drone Advisory Committee reflects the importance of this issue to our agency, and the value of our collaboration with stakeholders.

One ongoing trend that is particularly troubling to the FAA and our stakeholder partners is the number of unmanned aircraft sightings reported near or around airports and manned aircraft. Despite our collaborative efforts to educate unmanned aircraft users on responsible operations, the number of these sightings continues to rise each year. 

To date, we have received more than 1,100 reports in Fiscal Year 2016, which exceeds 100 per month. We are on pace to surpass last year’s numbers, and this really drives home  the need for careful and safe integration. 

The FAA wants to send a clear message that such operations are dangerous and illegal. We are working closely with the law enforcement community to identify and investigate unauthorized unmanned aircraft operations. The FAA has levied civil penalties for a number of unauthorized flights in various parts of the country, and we have many open enforcement cases.

We also have received a disturbing number of reports about unmanned aircraft interfering with wildfire fighting operations, including just last week here in Utah, over the Corner Canyon Fire. Wildfire suppression requires extensive support from and coordination with aircraft that deliver water and chemicals, and transport firefighters.  These aircraft conduct high risk operations that have been slowed or stopped on multiple occasions due to unmanned aircraft flying in the area without coordination. 

These reckless activities endanger lives in the air and lives and property on the ground when minutes can count.

Utah’s recent adoption of a state law that increases the criminal penalties for such activity is a clear effort to try to mitigate this risk. 

Similarly, in the FAA’s recently signed reauthorization extension legislation, Congress gave us authority to levy a civil penalty of up to $20,000 against any unmanned aircraft operator who interferes with wildfire suppression, law enforcement activity, or emergency response efforts.

Although unmanned aircraft can sometimes hinder such operations, they also can be great tools to support firefighting and other beneficial operations. Indeed, in two sections of our 2016 Reauthorization act, Congress directed the FAA to take actions to enable expeditious approval of unmanned aircraft operations in support of firefighting operations, emergency response efforts, and restoration of utilities.

As we work to identify and mitigate safety concerns, we recognize that unmanned aircraft operations also have implications for privacy and security.

The FAA is mindful of privacy concerns and has been actively engaged with our interagency partners to address this issue. We have provided support to the National Telecommunications and Information Administration's multi-stakeholder process directed by Presidential Memorandum to develop and communicate best practices for privacy, accountability, and transparency for both commercial and private unmanned aircraft use. This initiative recently resulted in the publication of voluntary best practices, which is an important step forward in addressing an issue that affects us all.

As part of a privacy education campaign, the FAA will provide all drone users with the NTIA’s recommended privacy guidelines as part of the unmanned aircraft registration process and through the FAA’s B4UFly mobile app. The FAA also will educate all commercial unmanned aircraft pilots on privacy during their pilot certification process; and we will issue new guidance to state and local governments on drone privacy issues as well.

Apart from privacy concerns, unmanned aircraft can also present security risks.

Several high profile events in 2015, including an unmanned aircraft landing on the White House lawn, highlighted the potential security risks and the challenges in countering them.

The US Government has a well-established policy and capability to react to traditional aviation threats. However, the nature of unmanned aircraft operations means we currently lack the technical capability to easily identify, track and respond to these threats using traditional means.

The Department of Homeland Security was designated as the lead federal agency for focusing federal partners, including the FAA, Department of Defense and others, on this thorny problem.  We and other agencies are also working with industry stakeholders on possible technologies to help detect and track unmanned aircraft movement through the National Airspace System, as well as options for mitigating threats. 

This group has engaged law enforcement agencies and state and local governments in and around the National Capital Region as part of this effort, but we need to expand that engagement to other state and local government partners as well.

There are three main focus areas of this work currently underway:

  • Rules of engagement and common operating procedures for law enforcement, since they and security forces will be the last line of defense for most security risks presented by unmanned aircraft.
  • Technology research, development and evaluation, and
  • Legal issues, which can affect the use of possible detection and mitigation options to address safety and security risks.

Law enforcement agencies in the National Capitol Region are developing training and education guidance that will help ensure that all the local, state and federal partners are working from the same information and have a coordinated response.

This information will be pushed out to the broader state and local law enforcement community.

The FAA also has a Law Enforcement Assistance Program, with special agents located across the country and responsible for providing support nationwide.  Just as we do with drug-related and other criminal matters associated with aviation, our agents can provide support to law enforcement and other government agencies by providing training, confirming unmanned aircraft registration, and identifying if the unmanned aircraft was conducting approved operations.

Toward this end, we published a law enforcement assistance guide that is available on the FAA website and is being updated to reflect the Part 107 rule. It provides some basic guidance about what type of information to collect and whom to contact at the FAA if you have an unmanned aircraft incident at your site or facility.

If anyone is interested in learning more about our LEAP program, I am happy to talk during a break.

The FAA and the Department of Homeland Security also are co-leading an Interagency UAS Detection at Airports Strategy Working Group.  This group includes the Department of Defense, FBI, U.S. Secret Service, the Department of Energy, the Department of Interior, NASA and the Federal Communications Commission.

The group is focusing on the safety and security needs of airports against errant or hostile unmanned aircraft by creating a safe, efficient, and flexible framework to assess the integration of unmanned aircraft detection technologies. Results of these assessments will also help inform partner agencies and stakeholders that are responsible for safeguarding critical infrastructure.

The FAA’s focus is on evaluating technology that can help us detect and track unmanned aircraft movement in the National Airspace System, which will enable us to mitigate the safety risks of unmanned aircraft flying near manned aircraft and airports. We evaluated one vendor's product at Atlantic City airport this winter and worked with the FBI on deploying a system at JFK earlier this spring. We are currently working with several other manufacturers and airports to coordinate additional equipment evaluations over the next six to nine months.

Although some of these technologies have been used successfully by DOD overseas, the FAA and other agencies are evaluating whether these technologies can effectively operate in a civil environment, such as an airport or around other critical infrastructure.  

We are looking at UAS detection as a whole of government exercise, which was reinforced by Congress in our 2016 Reauthorization, directing FAA to work with DOD and Homeland Security, as well as other relevant federal partners, to establish a pilot program focused on airspace hazard mitigation in and around airports and critical infrastructure.

We must ensure we understand the impacts these technologies could have on aircraft, airports, and air navigation systems.  We don’t want deployment of unmanned aircraft detection and mitigation systems to introduce safety risks for manned aircraft.

One important consideration with these efforts is that current law may impose barriers to the evaluation and deployment of certain unmanned aircraft threat detection and mitigation systems by most federal agencies, as well as state and local entities and private individuals.

There are a number of federal laws to consider, including those that:

  • Prohibit destruction or endangerment of aircraft;
  • And prohibit electronic surveillance or recording of electronic signals and regulate electronic communications.

The Department of Justice is leading a federal interagency group that is analyzing how these and other laws apply to the evaluation and deployment of certain unmanned aircraft detection and mitigation technologies. 

Further complicating the issue is the desire of some state and local governments, as well as critical infrastructure owners, to take action on their own to mitigate unmanned aircraft safety, security, and privacy risks.

Here are a few factors to consider:

  • Unmanned aircraft are “aircraft” subject to regulation by the FAA to ensure safety of flight and safety of people and property on the ground.
  • Congress has vested the FAA with exclusive authority to regulate areas including airspace use, management and efficiency, air traffic control, safety and navigational facilities. This requires a delicate balance between safety and efficiency, and the protection of people on the ground. 
  • Substantial air safety issues are raised when state or local governments attempt to regulate the operation or flight of aircraft.

In December 2015, the FAA issued important guidance to states and municipalities that are considering their own unmanned aircraft laws or regulations. Our guidance explains that any local laws should be consistent with the extensive federal regulatory framework for aircraft and airspace use. It also explains that a consistent regulatory system ensures the highest level of safety for all aviation operations.

Several federal agencies, along with state and local governments and private sector infrastructure and venue owners, have asked or are considering asking the FAA for additional airspace restrictions or prohibitions in and around high-value facilities and assets. Currently, there are only 12 Prohibited Areas, which were established in the interest of national security and welfare.

In evaluating requests for additional prohibited areas, the FAA must also consider impacts to other users’ access to the National Airspace System, the system’s operational safety and efficiency, and our statutory mandates.

Congress addressed the intense interest in this issue in our Reauthorization legislation. The legislation, which became law on July 15, directs the FAA to establish a process by which government and private entities can request airspace restrictions over fixed sites.

We are analyzing that language and evaluating how best to proceed. In the interim, we have issued a Notice to Airmen that strongly advises pilots and unmanned aircraft operators to avoid the airspace above or in close proximity to military facilities, power plants, and other critical infrastructure or sensitive locations unless specifically authorized.

A number of federal, state, and local government and private sector entities are also thinking about the broad range of mitigation techniques that could be used to address risks posed by unmanned aircraft. 

We encourage government entities concerned about unmanned aircraft safety and security issues to review your existing authorities to see how they could be used to develop appropriate regulations, guidance, and concepts of operations.  Once you have that developed, please contact us, and we will be happy to review and coordinate with you.  We can work collaboratively to discuss the operational and airspace safety considerations as you’re developing those plans.

Some have called the birth of the unmanned aircraft industry the “Wright Brothers moment” of our time – and that may be so.

Safely and securely integrating drones into our airspace is one of the FAA’s top priorities, and we’re determined to get it right. It’s essential for our economy, and our role as a global aviation leader.

I’m confident that we will do so by working closely and collaboratively with our public and private sector stakeholders, like many of you in the room today.

Again, I want to thank you for inviting me to this forum, and I look forward to the rest of today's program and panel discussion.  Thank you.


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