Members of Congress air concerns on UAS safety, privacy, testing

By Patrick C. Miller | November 26, 2014

This week, U.S. senators from both parties called on the Federal Aviation Administration to release unmanned aerial systems (UAS) regulations on issues involving safety, privacy and test flights.

Three reported incidents of near misses between unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV) and aircraft flying near New York’s John F. Kennedy Airport prompted Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., to ask the FAA and the Office of Management and Budget “to immediately move forward with and release much-needed rules for the use of small unmanned aircraft systems.”

Sen. Brian Schatz, D-Hawaii, echoed Schumer’s concerns in a letter to FAA Administrator Michael Huerta, also citing a UAV near misses at JFK and at the Tallahassee (Florida) Regional Airport earlier this year. He said the incidents “demonstrate that this is a serious safety issue that could have enormous consequences if not addressed promptly.”

Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., was joined by four other senators in asking the FAA to speed up approvals for UAS test permits “to ensure the agency’s plans to regulate these aircraft don’t fall behind schedule.” A letter Wyden sent to Huerta was also signed by senators John Hoeven, R-N.D., Heidi Heitkamp, D-N.D., Cory Booker, D-N.J., and Jeff Merkley, D-Ore.

“In light of recent reports, I am concerned that proposed regulations on small, commercial unmanned aircraft will be costly, needlessly restrictive and hinder research and development for the growing UAS industry,” Wyden said. “The FAA needs to act quickly to alleviate these concerns and issue guidelines for developers and operators of unmanned aircraft that will give certainty to the UAS industry and ensure the safety and privacy of Americans.”

Wyden’s letter expressed concerns about the manner in which the FAA grants exemptions and issues certificates of authorization, which he said result in lengthy delays.

“These delays force those manufacturers and operators who play by the rules to sit on the sidelines while others chance fines to operate without any certification from the FAA, which raises serious concerns about public safety,” Wyden wrote. “Failure to improve the COA application process to operate within designated UAS Test Sites raises concerns that the test sites will fail to materialize the way Congress intended and valuable research and testing will be stalled.”

The letter asked that the FAA provide: an update on its timeline for releasing draft regulations for commercial UAS use; a response to concerns about the COA application and exemption processes; a plan for handling future applications in a timely manner; and a plan to make it easier for the FAA test sites to work with industry on commercial UAS applications.

Schumer also renewed his request for the U.S. Department of Commerce’s National Telecommunications and Information Administration to expedite UAS privacy guidelines. He said the lack of rules has created serious public safety and privacy concerns.