“Unmanned Aircraft Systems” Michael Huerta, Daytona Beach, FL

FAA Part 107

FAA-Puma1

Some of us are getting to know each other so well that gatherings such as this are starting to feel kind of like family reunions.

But we’re also eager to expand our family to engage a broader community in the dialogue about unmanned aircraft. We know there are a lot of creative minds with great ideas out there.

We want to hear from you and invite you to meet the FAA team and learn more about our collaborative efforts to safely integrate unmanned aircraft into the National Airspace System.

It seems that at every UAS event I attend, I comment on how much we’ve accomplished since the last event, even if that last event was just a month or two ago. Maybe it’s getting to be a bit of a cliché, but it’s true.

I see it as an affirmation that our collaborative approach is working. Because every time I talk about our accomplishments, I am referring to what we have accomplished together, as partners.

Our success is not the result of government doing what government does and industry doing what industry does. It’s the result of us joining together and respecting that we sometimes have different viewpoints.

Ultimately, we find common ground so that we can continue our unparalleled progress toward safely accommodating innovation.

This approach is working because we’re all coming from essentially the same place: we all view safety as our top priority. The safe integration of unmanned aircraft is a goal we’re committed to pursuing together.

Before we get started, I want to take a moment to highlight a couple of incidents that were in the news over the past few days because I think they sum up both the potential – and the challenge – of what we are trying to address as a group.

Over the weekend, a Bell 206 helicopter made a hard landing on some railroad tracks outside Baltimore while conducting power line inspections. This is exactly the type of operation that a small unmanned aircraft could do with much less risk to both aircraft and people and property on the ground.

The other incident, which we’ve all heard about by now, was the apparent collision between a drone and a commercial jetliner that was on approach to London Heathrow. I know the British authorities are still investigating – and the plane landed safely – but it’s exactly this type of scenario that we all want to avoid.

As an agency, the FAA’s role is to set a framework of safety without unduly impeding innovation. We recognize that we cannot solve these types of challenges alone. We need the expertise and collaboration of key industry stakeholders.

Collaboration is something I see as a two-way street. It isn’t just about the FAA listening to your ideas about what we should or shouldn’t do – although that’s valuable.

The industry also has an obligation to focus some of the energy it’s pouring into innovative designs toward simultaneously developing safety solutions. Safety is ashared responsibility.

Back in the 1960s, the nation’s collective imagination was captivated by President Kennedy’s challenge to send a man to the moon. Many of the brightest kids coming out of college shot for jobs at NASA.

Today, many of those minds are captivated by the limitless possibilities that the drone industry offers, and they are shooting for jobs in this exciting new field.

Like the space exploration of the 1960s, the work we are doing today is transforming aviation – and society – in very profound ways.

Drones, we all know, are changing the way countless jobs are done, from movie filming and real estate marketing to agricultural mapping and smokestack inspections. They’re also changing the way that we as an agency are doing business.

Last month, I was at South-by-Southwest in Austin, Texas – which itself was quite remarkable. After all, who would have imagined just a couple of years ago that a diverse group of drone industry representatives – and the Federal Aviation Administration–would be gathering for a panel discussion at a trendy cultural gathering?

During my opening remarks before the panel discussion, I referenced that old 1980s ad with the tag line, “This is not your father’s Oldsmobile.” I said we’re trying hard not to be your father’s FAA.

What does this mean? Well, for one thing it means the FAA is doing some self-reflecting.

We’re asking: are we fast enough? Are we flexible enough? Do the old rules work? If not, why? How do we get to solutions? How do we engage with stakeholders? Indeed, who are all the stakeholders?

We are growing and learning all the time. Clearly there is a middle road, where safety and innovation coexist on relatively equal planes, and we feel like we’re hitting a sweet spot lately.

Last fall, we assembled a diverse task force that helped create a robust drone registration system in record time. Today, more than 425,000 people have registered their drones.

That means our shared safety message has reached hundreds of thousands of people we might never have otherwise reached.

We’re helping a new group of aviators understand what it means to fly safely while welcoming them into the safety culture that has been embedded in traditional aviation for more than a century.

The registration task force was so successful that we decided to try this approach again. In March, we formed an aviation rulemaking committee to develop recommendations for how we could let certain unmanned aircraft operate over people.

Earlier this month, the committee delivered a comprehensive report that will help shape a new rule. They accomplished this task in just over three weeks.

We streamlined the Section 333 and UAS test site processes to make it easier to fly. And in late spring, we plan to finalize our small UAS rule, which will allow for routine commercial drone operations and eliminate the need for most Section 333 exemptions.

But not a day goes by that I don’t think of the magnitude of what we’re doing, and the remarkable impacts that drones have had on society in just the last couple of years.

I don’t think it’s an exaggeration to say drones are helping create a whole new means of realizing the American dream.

The low cost for new entrants means entrepreneurs have the opportunity to make huge contributions–both economically and culturally–in a very short time.

Drones are opening up aviation to people who never would have thought about entering the field through the traditional route.

Today, young people are pursuing careers as engineers, computer scientists, pilots and even lawyers with the intent of applying their skills through drones.

This demand has led to the creation of new education programs at colleges throughout the country. Right here at Embry Riddle you can get a Bachelor of Science in Unmanned Aircraft Systems Science degree.

And speaking of Embry Riddle, I’d like to pause for a second and thank our gracious hosts for providing the venue and bearing the heavy logistical load for what I know is going to be an illuminating and productive symposium.

I also want to sincerely thank everyone for taking time out of your busy schedules to be part of this discussion. The fact that we all assembled on such short notice shows we all agree about the importance of pushing integration to the next level.

In a moment I’m going to talk about what I hope we’ll accomplish over the next couple of days. But first, I want to mention that today is an especially significant milestone for UAS research.

Today, all six FAA UAS test sites in Alaska, North Dakota, Nevada, New York, Texas and Virginia are testing NASA’s unmanned aircraft traffic management system, better known as UTM.

Through UTM, NASA is researching prototype technologies that could enable safe and efficient low-altitude UAS operations.

In today’s tests, the UTM system will check for conflicts, approve or deny flight plans and notify users of any constraints. NASA’s goal is to obtain information to further refine and develop the system.

These tests are a prime example of something I said a few minutes ago – the FAA and industry both have key roles to play in the integration process. Neither of us is going to solve all of the challenges flying solo.

Working together, we have already tackled a lot of the low-hanging fruit. The purpose of this symposium is to build on the momentum we have developed over the past several months.

We need to start thinking about bigger challenges, so I propose that we use this symposium to frame these challenges together.

I would like today to mark the beginning of a new phase of the collaboration that has proved to be so successful. Toward this end, we have identified three high-level UAS strategic priorities.

Not surprisingly, the first is safely enabling UAS operations in the National Airspace System.

Second is adaptability. We want to create an environment in which emerging technology can be safely and rapidly introduced.

And third is global leadership. We’re looking to shape the global standards and practices for UAS through international collaboration.

These priorities form the backbone of a comprehensive strategic plan for UAS integration that we expect to release soon.

Now I’m going to touch on what I hope we’ll accomplish over the next two days. I want to outline what the FAA team is going to do and what I expect of you as key stakeholders.

Every FAA speaker at this symposium has three goals.

First: to explain. These are FAA decision makers in their respective areas. They’re here to tell you where the agency is heading and how we’re going to get there, what challenges we’re facing and where we need help.

Second: to listen. While we’re going to do some talking, we’re absolutely going to be listening too. We’re going to tell you the direction we’re leaning, but that doesn’t mean you have to agree.

In fact, we know most of you won’t agree with everything that’s said on this stage this afternoon. Disagreement can be a source of strength, and the key thing is for everyone to hear what the other is thinking.

Which leads to the third goal: We’re really here to engage. I expect a robust dialogue in every single one of tomorrow’s breakout sessions.

We’ve set up a feedback system so that everyone gets a chance to provide input – not just the loudest voices in the room. (I want to be clear that I wasn’t looking at any particular person when I said that.)

Now, I need to point out here that the FAA plays an important role in regulating this new industry, but we must all recognize there are other perspectives, such as privacy and security.

The FAA is engaged in interagency discussions with the Department of Homeland Security’s efforts to address the unique challenges safe integration of UAS present to the security community.

We are also part of the National Telecommunications and Information Administration’s multi-stakeholder process to make sure privacy concerns are addressed during integration. Ultimately, the government as a whole must balance the different equities and interests on these important issues.

What we’re really looking at today is starting to frame these issues into actionable problems that we can start addressing on the safety side of the equation.

I have the same expectation for all attendees – to listen, but also to engage. I want you to speak up when you agree but also when you disagree.

I promise your comments will not fall on deaf ears – in fact, we brought a team of note-takers to make sure we capture everyone’s viewpoints.

Tomorrow is going to be a very full day, and it’s going to give us the opportunity to hear all viewpoints.

The day will feature a dozen sessions including a keynote luncheon panel on integration that will reflect a wide range of opinions and viewpoints.

Working together, we have accomplished a truly incredible amount in the last couple of years. But we’re still really at the beginning of the process.

I like to say that safely integrating unmanned aircraft is never going to be a finite process where one day we’ll sit back and say, OK, our work is done.

Frankly, our work is never done. I made that point in a recent meeting where someone asked when we would be done integrating unmanned aircraft. I responded that we’re still not done integrating manned aircraft!

The point is that we have to constantly evolve in our approach. We’re going to succeed because we’re committed to evolving, to being flexible and to working with stakeholders each and every step of the way.

What comes out of this symposium may not reflect the position of every stakeholder, but it will be what we agree upon collectively as a group.

I am grateful to everyone that made this trip, and I hope you’re all ready to contribute to the constructive dialogue needed to keep us moving forward.