Unmanned Aircraft Systems Symposium Opening Remarks

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

Remarks as prepared for delivery

Good afternoon, everyone. Thank you for joining us as we kick off the second annual UAS Symposium. It’s great to have so many of you here today, and from so many different industries and areas of expertise.

America is rightly considered the gold standard in aviation, and there’s a simple reason for it: we don’t compete when it comes to safety.

There’s often a combative relationship between government and the industry it regulates. But not here.

For the FAA, the airlines and manufacturers, the pilots and passengers…Safety is our common goal, our shared principle, and our north star.

It’s not just good business – it’s the only business.

When you look at every important issue the FAA has tackled over the years – from decreasing the risk of commercial aviation crashes to modernizing our air traffic control system – our success has always depended on our close partnership with industry.

By working together, we’ve achieved more – faster – than we ever could on our own.

Now, we’re ushering in a new age of American aviation: the unmanned aircraft era. And it’s moving at a quicker pace than anything we’ve seen before.

Back in January, I attended CES in Las Vegas for the second time. And I was struck, not only by the creativity on display, but by how much had changed since my last visit.

If you can dream it, drone manufacturers are building it. Some of the latest models can sense and avoid obstacles in their paths. Others can fit in your pocket, or be used under water. A few have even automated the “selfie” game.

I understand that Helicopter Association International has even started a special drone membership.

Many in that industry have even begun looking at ways that drones can augment the tasks they do with helicopters, particularly in cases where drones can accomplish a task without putting human lives at risk.

Innovations throughout the small unmanned aircraft community have captured people’s imaginations. And I’m sure it’s what inspired many of you to attend this event.

I see quite a few familiar faces here today. But there are also a lot of new ones – and that’s good news for us.

Because as we continue to incorporate drones into our airspace, the people in this room and the organizations you represent are going to be more important than ever before.

I’m going to be leading a panel on the FAA’s unmanned aircraft integration efforts in a few minutes. We’ll be covering some of our greatest hits, which I’m sure many of you are familiar with.

We finalized a rule that allows people to fly unmanned aircraft for commercial purposes under specific conditions, and we’ve issued more than 37,000 Remote Pilot Certificates to date.

We set up an online drone registry that’s received 770,000 registrations and counting in a little over 15 months.

The B4UFLY app, which we created to let people know where it’s safe and legal to fly a drone, has been downloaded more than 200,000 times.

And our “No Drone Zone” public education campaign has helped keep events like the Inauguration and Super Bowl safe.

I’m proud of this record, and how quickly we achieved it.

But I’m going to say something that’s likely to give my colleagues heartburn: This was the easy stuff.

As we move toward fully integrating unmanned aircraft into our airspace, the questions we need to answer are only getting more complicated.

There’s tremendous interest in expanding operations so that unmanned aircraft can be flown over people, and beyond visual line of sight.

It’s not hard to see why: drones could provide a whole new perspective on both our cities and some of the most remote areas of the country.

But introducing these operations into our airspace also introduces a unique set of challenges.

There are obvious safety questions. What happens to people on the ground if a drone flying overhead fails?

Then there are security concerns. How can we make sure unmanned aircraft don’t gain access to sensitive sites? And after seeing how drones can be used for ill-intent overseas, how can we ensure similar incidents don’t happen here?

These aren’t questions the FAA can or should answer alone.

All of those greatest hits I mentioned earlier were only possible because of the work we did with the people in this room.

And as we tackle these new safety and security challenges, we’re turning to you once again.

In the coming weeks, we will begin bringing the industry and national security leadership together to address these issues.

We hope to create a mutual understanding about the government’s security concerns, and discuss how we can collaborate to address them. Look for more details on this in the near future.

We’re also launching a new Aviation Rulemaking Committee made up of a diverse group of aviation, technology, law enforcement, and safety stakeholders that will help us create standards for remotely identifying and tracking unmanned aircraft during operations.

This is one of the law enforcement community’s top concerns, and we hope the recommendations we receive will pave the way for expanded drone operations over people and beyond visual line of sight.

These initiatives are just the most recent example of how the FAA is working with stakeholders on all aspects of integration.

Later today, you’ll hear about two other industry-led groups we’ve formed – the Drone Advisory Committee, and the Unmanned Aircraft Safety Team.

This is a very deliberate approach we’re taking, and I see it as having two primary benefits.

First, we’re providing venues for some of the smartest people in technology and aviation to work together on the issues we all care about.

And second, it gives us an opportunity to create a shared vision of what we’re trying to accomplish and how we’re going to get there.

Here’s the thing with having a seat at the table: it comes with a certain level of responsibility.

We all need to have skin in the game, and be invested in producing the best possible outcomes for all parties.

It’s easy to focus on all of the bells and whistles that come with unmanned aircraft. This drone is the lightest and the smallest. This one can fly farther and faster.

But technology can also solve some of the safety and security challenges we’re facing.

For example, we’re already working with industry to test tools that can detect unauthorized drone operations near airports and other critical infrastructure.

The way I see it, the more problems industry can solve itself using technology, the better.

You’re going to do it more quickly and efficiently than the FAA ever could through regulations.

It may surprise a few of you to hear me say that. But this isn’t a new idea at our agency.

Late last year, we completely overhauled how we certify small general aviation aircraft.

For a long time, the FAA told manufacturers how to build a safe airplane by requiring specific technologies.

But as companies came up with new and better ideas, our certification processes struggled to keep up.

So we threw out the old rule book.

Instead of prescribing certain technologies and designs, we’re now defining the performance objectives we want to achieve. This lets industry figure out the best and safest ways to meet them.

We want to work with the unmanned aircraft industry in the same way.

We know how fast you’re churning out new drone designs and capabilities. And we don’t want bureaucratic red tape to hamper your progress.

On the contrary: we want to support it.

When we all work in good faith… when we all share the same safety goals… we can accomplish some truly impressive things.

That’s what this Symposium is about. It’s being hosted by the FAA and AUVSI, but we have no intention of dominating the conversation.

Instead, our goal is to provide a productive framework that allows you to engage with each other and share ideas about the future of the unmanned aircraft industry in America.

We’ve been calling this work “integration,” but another word for it is “inclusion.”

Each of you has a unique perspective to share, and I hope you’ll take the opportunity to do so early and often.

We’re all going to need to roll up our sleeves. We have a lot of work to do.

But when we get this right, we’ll know we’ve helped define the next great era of aviation – together.

Thank you.


Now I’d like to welcome our first panel to the stage.

As I said before, the FAA has racked up an impressive list of accomplishments on unmanned aircraft that wouldn’t have been possible without our partnerships with industry.

But they also required close collaboration inside the FAA – between offices, and across lines of business.

Today, I’m joined by some of our senior executives, who will share how we’re coordinating our drone integration efforts across the agency.

Please help me welcome:

  • Peggy Gilligan, Associate Administrator for Aviation Safety;
  • Teri Bristol, Chief Operating Officer of the Air Traffic Organization;
  • Winsome Lenfert, Deputy Associate Administrator for the Office of Airports; and
  • Jim Eck, Assistant Administrator for NextGen.