UAS Pathfinder Program Announcement Press Conference

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

Hello, everyone. Thank you for joining us today.

The unmanned aircraft industry is changing faster than any segment of the aviation industry. So many bright minds are focused on advancing this technology. People are finding new ways to use these devices on almost a daily basis. The energy here at AUVSI is proof of that.

Today, I’m pleased to announce a new project that will help the FAA harness some of this energy.

We’re calling it the Pathfinder Program. We’re partnering with three leading U.S. companies who have committed extensive resources to perform research that will help us determine if and how we can safely expand unmanned aircraft operations in the United States. These companies reached out to the FAA to work with us on exploring three key types of unmanned operations.

CNN will be researching how visual line-of-sight operations might be used for newsgathering in urban areas.

PrecisionHawk, a manufacturer, will be surveying crops in rural areas using unmanned aircraft flying outside of the pilot’s direct vision.

BNSF Railroad will explore the challenges of using these vehicles to inspect their rail infrastructure beyond visual line-of-sight in isolated areas.

We anticipate receiving valuable data from each of these trials that could result in FAA-approved operations in the next few years. They will also give insight into how unmanned aircraft can be used to transform the way certain industries do business – whether that means making sure trains run on time, checking on the health of crops, or reporting on a natural disaster.

Integrating unmanned aircraft into our airspace is a big job, and it’s one the FAA is determined to get right. Earlier this year, we took an important step forward by releasing a proposed rule that laid out a flexible framework for allowing the routine use of small unmanned aircraft. It included a number of common sense provisions, like not flying near airports, at night, or more than 500 feet off the ground. It also recommended requiring the operator to be able to see the unmanned vehicle at all times.

The FAA received more than 4,000 public comments on the proposal, and we’re working to address them before finalizing the rule.

This, however, takes time – so we’re actively looking for other ways to expand the use of unmanned aircraft in the meantime. We’re receiving valuable information from our six national test sites. We’re also accommodating requests for some commercial operations. The Pathfinder program is our latest step in the right direction – and I’m eager to see the results.

Now, I’d like to invite representatives from each of our Pathfinder partners to share a few words about how their organizations will be using unmanned aircraft during the program:

  • David Vigilante, Senior Vice President, Legal for CNN
  • Christopher Dean, CEO of PrecisionHawk
  • Gary Grissum, Unmanned Aircraft Lead for BNSF Railroad