June 17, 2015
Statement of Michael G. Whitaker, Deputy Administrator
Before the House Oversight and Government Reform Hearing on Unmanned Aircraft System
Thank you Chairman Chaffetz, Ranking Member Cummings, Members of the Committee. I appreciate the opportunity to be here today to discuss the safe integration of Unmanned Aircraft Systems, or UAS, into the National Airspace.
Aviation has always been an industry of innovation, driven by new technology. Unmanned aircraft are born from that same spirit of innovation. This technology has thousands of potential uses – from agriculture to news gathering, to fire fighting and border patrol.
But it also introduces new risks into the nation’s airspace. At the Federal Aviation Administration, our challenge is to allow for this innovation while maintaining the highest levels of safety. I am pleased to report that we have made great strides over the past year toward safely integrating UAS into what is the largest, most complex aviation system in the world.
The FAA Modernization and Reform Act of 2012 laid out a framework for the safe integration of UAS into the airspace by September 2015, and the FAA has made significant progress in meeting those milestones. Perhaps most important among these accomplishments is the publication of the small UAS Notice of Proposed Rulemaking. This rule, as proposed, creates one of the most flexible regulatory frameworks in the world for UAS operations. We’ve received thousands of comments to the NPRM, and we’re in the process of reviewing those. Issuing a final small UAS rule remains one of our highest priorities.
At the same time, we are taking other steps to enable industry to take advantage of this new technology. The FAA continues to issue exemptions under section 333 of the 2012 Act to allow for commercial activity in low-risk, controlled environments. Currently, the FAA is processing on average more than 50 section 333 exemptions each week.
We also continue to work with our partners in government and industry to overcome the largest technical barriers to UAS integration, while ensuring the continued safety of the airspace. There is still a lot to learn about the capabilities and risks posed by UAS. That is why we are leveraging a variety of research tools to give industry greater flexibility and provide FAA additional data that could inform future standards.
In December 2013, the FAA selected six sites to test UAS technology and operations. These test sites are providing valuable data to our Tech Center in New Jersey.
And we recently announced the Pathfinder Program, to study UAS operations in circumstances beyond those currently being approved. For example, BNSF Railroad will explore the challenges of using these aircraft to inspect rail infrastructure beyond visual line of sight in isolated areas. These partnerships with industry will help us determine if and how we can safely expand unmanned aircraft operations beyond the parameters set forth in the proposed rule.
Beyond commercial applications, UAS have become increasingly available and affordable to the average consumer, most of whom are not trained aviators. Accordingly, the FAA is taking a proactive approach to educate the public on the safe and responsible use of UAS.
We partnered with members of industry and the modeling community to initiate the “Know Before You Fly” outreach campaign, providing recreational operators with the information they need to fly safely and responsibly. This outreach has been successful, and several UAS manufacturers now voluntarily include educational materials in their packaging.
The FAA also initiated a “No Drone Zone” campaign to raise awareness of the prohibition on flying unmanned aircraft near outside sporting events. In May, we built on that success, launching a public outreach campaign for the Washington, D.C., region to reinforce the message that the city itself, and all communities within 15 miles of National Airport, constitute a “No Drone Zone.”
While our first preference is to educate amateur operators about legal compliance, we will use administrative and enforcement action to gain compliance when appropriate. Local law enforcement is often in the best position to respond quickly. The FAA recently issued guidance to first responders on how they can best assist us.
The United States has the safest aviation system in the world, and our goal is to integrate this new and important technology while maintaining the highest levels of safety. The FAA has successfully integrated new technologies in our aviation system for more than 50 years. We will do the same with unmanned aircraft. We look forward to continuing to work with Congress and industry toward this common goal. Thank you, and I will be happy to take your questions.