AUVSI Xponential

Former Administrator, Michael Huerta (January 09, 2013–January 05, 2018)

Remarks As Delivered

Good morning. It’s a pleasure to be joining you this morning here in the great city of Dallas. You know, I was looking back and thinking about the many years I’ve been attending this gathering. This is actually my fourth visit to AUVSI. Now it’s called Xponential, and it’s amazing how much has changed just in that short period of time.

I am starting to feel a little bit like that uncle, the one who shows up every Thanksgiving, talks about some of the same things over and over, talks about some stuff that is new.

But, the good news is this, the good news is that the story on unmanned aircraft is a story that bears a lot of repeating. It’s a story about collaboration, it’s a story about innovation, and I think most importantly, it’s a story of a shared commitment to safety.

I sincerely hope that when my term as FAA Administrator ends in January, that the word-cloud of my most-used terms will include those words: collaboration, innovation and safety.

I’ve begun to look at these gatherings here at Xponential as a microcosm, a microcosm of the world of all things unmanned aircraft.  I was able to walk around the convention hall yesterday and I visited with a number of you, and the types of aircraft that we’re all seeing, and the capabilities that they possess, it’s nothing short of amazing.

Each and every year, there are new players, and these new players emerge with innovative new uses for unmanned aircraft. While the–I won’t say the old players, I’ll say the more established players – add additional sophistication to what are incredibly popular products.

A few weeks ago, the FAA held what has become its annual Small Unmanned Aircraft Systems Symposium.

We had 84 speakers and 22 different discussions. We held the first ever FAA Twitter Chat in conjunction with that event, and people engaged with our content online thousands and thousands of times.

More than 700 attendees from government, from academia, law enforcement, and the aviation and technology industries participated there in person.

Afterwards, I did an interview with someone, and I was asked what it felt like to be present at the birth of a whole new sector of aviation, a whole new industry.

I guess it’s human nature – I certainly didn’t think of that way, until the question came up – I guess it’s human nature to become so focused on the incremental stuff that we are doing day-to-day, that we forget to take stock of how far we’ve actually come in a very short period of time.

But it’s true: In just a few short years, the unmanned aircraft community has evolved into a vibrant industry. It’s an incubator for ideas that are changing the way the world thinks about flying.

It wasn’t that long ago that we were talking about how drones might be used for aerial photography or package delivery.

Now, we’re having very intense and very real conversations about a day in the not-that-distant future when a drone taxi might lift you above the rush-hour traffic in a dense metropolitan area and make sure you get to that meeting across town on time.

Now, clearly there’s a lot to be done between here and there. But it’s a “there” that has only come on to the horizon recently.

This pace of this development is something that we talk about a lot. It’s something that inspires a great deal of awe. In the traditional aircraft industry, new jetliners are introduced maybe once every 10 or 15 years. In the world of unmanned aircraft, 10 or 15 new products might be introduced every year.

It has been, certainly, a great honor to be the FAA Administrator during this whirlwind of imagination and progress.

I am thrilled that my colleagues at the FAA have embraced a new way of thinking about how the government should respond to an industry that doesn’t know how to slow down.

We’ve learned to move quicker than ever to identify and develop regulations that ensure safety without unduly stifling the economic potential.

Before joining the FAA in 2010, I was the president of a major division of a Fortune 500 company with experience inA fielding large technology and infrastructure platforms. So I understand the desire to move as quickly as we possibly can.

As you might imagine, I’ve had more than a few conversations with people who are frustrated that we aren’t moving faster. But, I’ve also talked to many who would like us to tap the brakes just a bit.

But, the good news is that we continue to make a lot of progress. But, the unprecedented rate at which unmanned aircraft are evolving means we have to grapple with new and complex questions that affect a broad spectrum of the many stakeholders that we have in this industry.

This is particularly apparent as we consider the roles of government, the roles of federal government, state and local governments, and how they should play in this space. How do we ensure that unmanned aircraft operations can occur with a minimum amount of disruption and interference, particularly when we are moving into densely populated areas?

In 2015, we issued some preliminary guidance, but it’s an issue that is getting a lot of attention from state legislatures and in city councils all across the country.

This subject was a major focus last week during a meeting of our Drone Advisory Committee.

Now, as FAA Administrator, I have a very clear sense of what the existing FAA authorities are, and our processes to ensure their compliance and to enforce the rules.

But I think you would all agree we need greater clarity as to what state and local governments would like to see, and the role that they would like to play.

It’s an important question, and I think it’s extremely important that we as a community get that right.

Now, we have a few ideas on a way to approach the subject. The Drone Advisory Committee is doing great work in this area, and I hope in the near future to be able to talk about a concept that we’re working with, about how we might learn more, that will enable us to answer this question.

But, this work on roles and responsibilities is only one of several key areas we’re looking at. For example, we are continuing our work on a rule for operations over people. I know that’s something of great interest to everyone in the room here.

The FAA’s Center of Excellence recently completed the first in a series of research projects looking at the potential safety ramifications of what might happen when a drone hits a person on the ground.

Although we can’t yet definitively answer every question, we are starting to understand the risks a little better.

The findings of this study are incredibly helpful. They help us as we continue to develop standards that ensure the level of safety that the public expects and deserves as drones become more ubiquitous in our daily lives.

The next phase of research is set to begin next month. It will verify the results of the most recent study, as well as develop tests that manufacturers can use to certify their aircraft for flights over people.

Later this summer, we expect to release the results of another study that looks at that question that we’ve seen in the news a lot, what happens if an unmanned aircraft collides with an aircraft.

The FAA is also collaborating with law enforcement and the military to examine security concerns, particularly security concerns that they have raised in the world of unmanned aircraft.

In late April, the FAA and our partners completed the fifth and final field evaluation of possible drone detection systems just down the road at Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport.

This most recent evaluation used a combination of technologies, including radar, radio frequency and electro-optical systems.

We plan to use the information we’ve received from this test, the test in Denver, and elsewhere, and other information, to develop minimum performance standards for any unmanned aircraft detection technology that might be deployed around airports here in the United States.

We also announced that we are setting up a new Aviation Rulemaking Committee that will help us create standards for remotely identifying and tracking unmanned aircraft during operations.

I know there’s a lot of interest in this group, and it will be made up of a diverse group of stakeholders, and we hope the recommendations they produce will help pave the way in answering these questions about flights over people, beyond visual line of sight, and all of those things that are so important.

Later this month, we’ll also be hosting an Unmanned Aircraft Security roundtable with senior transportation and national security leaders and representatives from the drone industry.

This forum will give us an opportunity to create a mutual understanding about the government’s security concerns, and to discuss how we can collaborate with industry to address them.

There is no question in my mind that the significant milestones we have achieved so far are because stakeholders from across government and industry have come together. They have come together to focus their energy on solving some of our most important challenges.

A few minutes ago, I mentioned the Drone Advisory Committee.  I’d particularly like to thank Brian Krzanich, the CEO of Intel Corporation. As you know, Brian has accepted our invitation to serve as the chair for the Drone Advisory Committee, and with his expertise in Silicon Valley, Brian’s guidance and expertise have been absolutely indispensable to us.

I’m also grateful to a number of other people from across the aviation industry, drone industry, people who have agreed to help us as part of our DAC Subcommittee and our Task Groups. Many of those members are here today, and I’d like to thank them for their commitment and for their leadership in working collaboratively to address these issues.

It seems like only yesterday that we were scrambling to develop the UAS registry in anticipation of what indeed was a boom in the sales of consumer drones.

Today, more than 820,000 operators have registered their aircraft. More than 745,000 of those are hobbyists, leaving 60,000 or so that are commercial operators of unmanned aircraft.

We have issued more than 43,000 Remote Pilot Certificates under Part 107, in the short time that it’s been in effect.

At the same time, we are taking steps to make it easier and faster when it comes to processing requests for Part 107 authorizations and waivers for those of you who are seeking to capitalize on new business opportunities.

Last month, we published more than 200 facility maps to help streamline authorizations in the airspace around some of our busiest airports.

These maps are an important next step in order for the industry and the FAA to work together to automate what has so-far been a rather labor intensive and sometimes frustrating process.

These maps help drone operators improve the quality of the information in their Part 107 airspace authorization requests and they help the FAA to process them more quickly.

Now, to be clear, the maps are informational and do not give people permission to fly drones. You still need to submit an online airspace authorization application.

But for the first time, your request benefits from detailed grid maps that depict the distances above ground level that drones can safely fly.

In the critical areas around airports and hospital heliports, these maps help us with the needed data to conduct the safety analysis that must occur before flights can be approved. So, we’re shrinking the time to approve, and we will shrink it further.

I have mentioned the word “safety” several times in the last few minutes. And I think as FAA Administrator, it’s something that I talk about a lot, probably a couple of hundred times a day.

But, I’m happy to see that both the industry and individual operators have joined us in embracing a culture of safety around unmanned aircraft.

The vast majority of you recognize that, even though you might be standing on the ground, you are, in fact, aviators.

You have embraced the responsibility of operating in an environment that can be unforgiving of mistakes or reckless behavior.

Nevertheless, we do continue to receive reports on a daily basis from pilots who encountered drones in places where they should not be, sometimes at altitudes well above 400 feet.

In fact, not long ago, the pilot of a jetliner preparing to land right here at Dallas/Fort Worth reported encountering a drone at 10,000 feet just west of downtown Dallas.

The FAA is spreading the safety message. We continue to make updates to our B4UFLY smartphone app, which was created to let people know where it’s safe and where it’s legal to fly. That app has been downloaded some 220,000 times.

But all you have to do is go to YouTube and search for “night drone flight” or “drone footage,” put in any city, you’ll find dozens of videos that still reflect a sobering lack of understanding of guidelines and of basic safety regulations.

So far, we’ve been fortunate that none of these incidents has resulted in an injury or a collision with a manned aircraft.

But safety shouldn’t rely on luck. Safety needs to be intentional.

I am grateful that the members of the Unmanned Aircraft Safety Team have accepted the challenge of finding effective ways of promoting safety throughout this industry.

Now, I doubt that many people will disagree that education is an important part of the safety equation.

But, I firmly believe that the answers to many of this industry’s remaining challenges lie in the one trait that has defined it since the beginning: Your ingenuity.

Throughout our system – particularly in the last 30 years or so – the real advancements in safety have come through technology.

Wind shear detection is now available in the flight deck of every modern jetliner, as are collision-avoidance systems.

We have incredibly sophisticated radar systems that harness GPS databases to predict a plane’s flight path and to warn the pilot if the flight is descending toward terrain.

As a result, aviation is safer than it has ever been. And, new technologies continue to drive the risk out of the system on a daily basis.

I’d argue the same will eventually be true of commercially available unmanned aircraft.

Someday, one of you will invent an unmanned aircraft that will be incapable of colliding with anything, whether it’s a tree, a building, a person, or an aircraft moving at several hundred miles an hour.

This aircraft will know exactly how fast – and how high – it can go, no matter where the operator might want to fly it.

At the same time, it will broadcast its position to air traffic controllers and perhaps other operators, lending situational awareness that could clear the way for even more diverse operations.

How far away is that? Some might speculate we might be several years away. Some speculate, and I think we can just as easily say, it might be a lot less than that.

But if there’s one thing aviation has taught us, it’s that innovation has a way of compressing time.

In the meantime, our job is to capitalize on each incremental step, making sure that we build a framework of performance-based regulations that can easily accommodate change.

From its earliest beginnings, aviation has attracted a potent combination of dreamers and doers. And monumental achievements can occur in the space of one person’s lifetime.

Orville Wright, whose first flight at Kitty Hawk reached a breathtaking speed of 10 mph across the ground, lived to see Chuck Yeager break the sound barrier and usher in a new age in aviation.

In 1927, Charles Lindbergh proved it was possible to fly all the way from New York to Paris without stopping.

Forty-two years later, Charles Lindbergh was a guest at Cape Canaveral when Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin and Michael Collins climbed atop a Saturn V rocket and set out for the moon.

Innovation does, indeed, have a way of compressing time.

As I was walking through the convention hall yesterday, I recalled my childhood in Southern California.

Back then, I had a toy aircraft, and it was tethered to a control yoke, I stood in the center, and watched it fly around me, tethered there, while I moved it up and down.

I thought it was pretty amazing.

Today, the technology exists to allow us to make our own giant leaps. The descendants of these model aircraft are now poised to make the world a better place.

The only limitation seems to one thing: How quickly we – all of us, across the industry – can make it happen, safely.

I know that this industry will continue to rise to that challenge.

I thank you for what you’re doing each and every day to harness innovation and to make this a great and safe place to fly.

Have a great conference.