Former Acting Deputy Administrator, Carl E. Burleson (January 07, 2018–August 12, 2019)

Thank you for that wonderful introduction. It’s the kind of introduction any father would want his sons to hear- of course they’d say- who are they talking about.

I appreciate the opportunity to talk to this audience about UAS and their integration into the nation’s airspace. So before I go further, I want to begin with a thank you. If we’re going to safely integrate UAS into the NAS- we can’t do it alone. An uninformed recreational flier in the wrong place at the wrong time could impact everyone- recreational and commercial. That is why I am pleased to announce the FAA has strengthened our relationship with the Know Before You Fly Educational Campaign founded by AUVSI and the Academy of Model Aeronautics. This agreement, which was signed last week, enhances our partnership, demonstrates both FAA and the industry’s commitment to safety, and sets the stage for increased collaboration and outreach to current and prospective users.

So back to a key question I’m sure you all are asking- and we are- how will the FAA and other regulators around the world introduce this new set of users into the safest form of transportation on the planet -wisely, safely and in a reasonable timeframe?

In thinking about the challenges- I’m reminded of a conversation I had with my sons on a stormy evening long ago. 

It was a sticky August night in DC (we sometimes get those in DC…) and a raging thunderstorm had knocked the power out. I took the boys out to our screened-in porch to watch the driving rain, the wind and the lightning show.  My adventurous 12-year old pleaded, “Hey Dad, can I go out and play in this?” My younger son was sitting very quietly in my lap for the longest time.  I finally asked him- what he thought about the storm. He says, “Dad, is this any way for a seven-year-old to die?” That’s reality–two boys, from the same genetic stock, having two polar opposite views of the same phenomena they were observing.

Their divergent views of the world is a good analogy for the challenge we face with the rapid development of this new set of users.  Some see an incredible opportunity for new markets and services and it needs to go faster.  Others fear this might undermine safety and add new levels of risk into the system. As a regulator, the FAA’s job is to find the way forward- to find the path that manages expectations on both sides of this equation.   

Let’s face it- there are some big challenges as UAS  are much different than manned aircraft.  This is true not just in terms of use, but also the pace of innovation and the volume of operations.  For example, the progression of UAS innovation and the change in product cycles can generally be measured in months, not years.  Similarly, the volume of UAS operations is outpacing manned aircraft.  This is a disruptive technology, but  I don’t have to tell that to this crowd. To date, the FAA has registered about 1.4 million drones, nearly 400,000 of which are for commercial operations, and we have issued more than 130,000 remote pilot licenses. A good many of these drones are small systems that you fly with your finger and a smart phone. Game changing autonomy will find its way into urban air mobility vehicles.  Think about it, in the space of a few years- there are nearly four times as many UAS as registered manned aircraft. 

So let me touch on how we’re charting a course toward integration- by briefly sharing some thoughts on three areas this morning- gathering the data, creating the framework, and building the infrastructure.

I was talking with several UAS firms last week in California.  One person asked what was the top things the FAA needed to help facilitate integration.  My response was simple- data, data, data.  Our risk management approach, how we set regulations, the policies we promote- and most importantly-  how we’ve gotten to the level of safety in traditional aviation is all about having access to data to properly understand and manage risk.  That’s why the UAS Integration Pilot Program or IPP launched in October 2017 is so important.  This is allowing us to work with a variety of users and government organizations to safely test and validate advanced operations of drones.

Through the IPP, nine state, local and tribal governments across the U.S. are helping us to develop UAS regulations, policy and guidance through practical applications. Perhaps more importantly they have become the match that is lighting off a creative fire in the industry and in the public for what this novel new form of transportation might achieve.

It’s a win-win. The demonstrations, and more recently, routine operations, are proving big time how small drones can be beneficial. In the process, the FAA is honing its risk assessment skills. That will help us create sensible regulations that will ensure drones, other aviation users and humans can safely coexist.

In fact, the IPP is already paying dividends on the investment.  Recently, the FAA granted the first air carrier certification to a commercial drone operator for package deliveries in rural Blacksburg, Virginia.  Although the regulatory framework for broader drone operations is not complete, the IPP has helped to inform the FAA and drone operators of the extent to which operations can begin under existing rules

This leads naturally to the regulatory framework we need to put in place.  What happens next is that we gradually expand when and how those operators can conduct their business.  The FAA is focused on enabling an ever-expanding universe of UAS operations.  In order to allow for such operations to be conducted safely and securely, the FAA has moved forward with a number of regulatory initiatives.

In February 2019, the FAA published an interim final rule on external marking requirements for small UAS. The rule requires small unmanned aircraft owners to display their unique identifier (registration number) on an external surface of the aircraft

We’ve just closed the public comment period for proposed new rules that would allow small UAS to operate over people and at night. We received about 1,000 comments, thank you very much. We are working hard to respond to all the input we received to be able to propose a final rule. 

We also just closed out an advanced notice of proposed rulemaking – a process whereby we get your input before we even propose a new rule – on a topic we call Safe and Secure Operations of small UAS. The FAA’s security partners have helped to highlight for us some of the important security and public safety questions.  It delves into operational and airspace restrictions for small drones, explores hardware requirements, and proposes identification and tracking technologies. For that one, we received nearly 2,000 comments, which we’ll mull and decide how best to incorporate in a proposed rulemaking.

Finally, let me touch on remote identification.  I know this of keen interest here- as a number of folks approached me last night on this issue.  Let me assure everyone we understand remote identification is fundamental to both safety and security of drone operations.  Remote identification will be necessary for routine beyond visual line-of-sight operations and operations over people, package delivery, operations in congested areas, and for the continued safe operation of all aircraft in shared airspace.  It will also be foundational for the advancement of automated passenger or cargo-carrying air transportation—what is often referred to as Urban Air Mobility.  From a security perspective, remote identification will enable us to connect a drone to its control station location.  With universal remote identification, the FAA and our security partners will be better able to locate a drone operator, determine if a drone is being operated in a clueless, careless, or criminal manner, and take appropriate action if necessary.  The FAA is committed to establishing remote identification requirements as quickly as possible and is working hard to get a notice of proposed rule out.

The FAA’s ultimate goal is to integrate, not segregate, UAS into the NAS.  Given the expected volume of drone operations, drone traffic management must be automated.  Our first step toward that goal was automating the process of obtaining approvals to fly Part 107 small drones in controlled airspace. In late 2017, we teamed with industry to launch LAANC – Low-Altitude Authorization and Notification – which automated and greatly accelerated the approval time.

Today, operators who want to fly in the controlled airspace near airports submit their flight requests through an approved by the FAA UAS service provider.

The Service Suppliers have access to FAA airspace data sources, including no-fly zones and the gridded maps that show the maximum altitude above ground that drones can fly. This helps make sure the requested operation will be safe. If approved, operators receive their authorizations in near-real time. Since program launch, we have received about 90,000 authorization requests, almost 90% of which were automatically approved. The others required further coordination.

LAANC is now live at nearly 300 air traffic facilities covering approximately 500 airports.  I’m here today to announce that, due to the ongoing success of the LAANC beta test, we will now be making the capability available at 109 FAA contract control towers by the end of May. This will open LAANC up to operators in a wider geographic footprint. 

LAANC is an important – but just the first step toward  implementation of UAS Traffic Management (UTM).  Overall, UTM is essentially a set of concepts and tools being developed by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), the FAA, and industry to safely separate and facilitate dense low-altitude drone operations.  UTM is not a specific equipment system; it will be complementary to the existing air traffic management system and will not replace it.  We’re working closely with NASA who is doing some heavy lifting for us right now in this area with its UTM technical capability level, or TCL, demonstrations. The lessons learned from four increasingly complex TCL demonstrations will help the FAA develop the needed, highly automated air traffic management system that will serve both manned and unmanned aircraft. NASA’s last and final TCLs, happening soon, will focus on small drone operations in higher-density urban areas, including news gathering and package delivery operations.

In moving forward, I think it’s important to acknowledge the truth- as many here know- that small drones are already changing the landscape of our economy and society.  

At a UAS test site in Maryland, doctors from the University of Maryland School of Medicine and engineers from the University of Maryland recently used a drone to deliver an organ to a hospital in Baltimore in the middle of the night for a successful kidney transplant. The angel flight followed more than two years of research and development and testing, which included a custom-built 8-rotor UAS with multiple power trains, and this is in their words, “a high-tech apparatus for maintaining and monitoring a viable human organ.” End quote. And it all happened with local, not national, FAA involvement.

In San Diego, the Chula Vista police department and CAPE, a private UAS teleoperations company, are using drones as first responders on a daily basis to better protect the public, potentially save the lives of officers, as well as to make the department more efficient. The operation is part of the City of San Diego’s IPP.

I saw a demonstration last year and it hits home for me – as one of my sons is a police officer.  I let you guess which one from my story.

This is how it works: From its headquarters rooftop, the department sends drones to check out calls that occur within approximately 1 mile of the station. A trained first response teleoperator at the station views the live high-definition video from the drone and advises officers in the vicinity about the circumstances. The live feed is also available on the officers’ cell phones.

Here’s the department’s own words on the importance of this asset, and I quote. “Imagine the value of knowing that the truck leaving the scene of a robbery is red and heading northbound; or that the report of a man with a gun is actually a kid with a bb gun; or the accident on the freeway involves a tanker truck with placards indicating a chemical hazard…”

Since October, they have launched drone first responders on more than 400 calls in which 59 arrests were made, and for half of those calls, the drone was first on the scene with an average on-scene response time of 100 seconds. Equally important is the 60 times that having the drone there first alleviated the need to send officers at all.

When I hear stories like this, they remind me of how important it is for FAA to do its job and work with you and other stakeholders to integrate operations into the NAS as fast as safely and securely possible.  That’s why we’re here at XPONENTIAL. 

So let me conclude with three thoughts.

First, we recognize that we’ve hit an age of innovation that is reshaping the nation’s airspace.  UAS, Commercial space, the return of supersonic flight- its amazing to see the pace of technological change- and FAA is excited about it.  Whether I talk to some of our young engineers or some or our senior management- there is a real excitement of how this new user will push us to figure out how to do meet the challenges of safe integration.

Second,  we want to figure out how to take full advantage of a performance based approach and industry standards to achieve the safety we need.  We jettison decades of prescriptive rules in how we certify general aviation aircraft several years ago- to focus on a performance based approach.  That has allowed greater innovation in that sector.  Most here don’t know that the fuel used in the aircraft that transport you across this nation is not certified by the FAA- rather our rule points to an ASTM industry standard.  And that process has worked well for decades.  We want to take full advantage of this.

Finally, last week when I participated in a NASA workshop on automation and autonomy someone asked me what the timeline was for FAA certifying this type of new vehicles and operation.  And I said the answer is simple.  Our timeline is safety- and I suggest that is the timeline we all- both regulator and industry need to embrace together.

Thank you and have a great XPONENTIAL. Are there any questions?