Sen. Moran Introduces Legislation to Support Educational Use of Unmanned Aircraft Systems
March 10, 2016
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  • U.S. Sen. Jerry Moran (R-KS) introduced the Higher Education UAS Modernization Act (S. 2626) recently with U.S. Sen. Gary Peters (D-MI). The legislation would support the operation of unmanned aircraft systems by higher education institutions for research and educational purposes and workforce development. Under current Federal Aviation Administration regulations, colleges and universities are treated the same as commercial UAS users, meaning students and professors must apply for approval from the FAA, obtain a pilot’s license and are restricted to using only pre-approved aircraft.

    “Unmanned aerial systems are poised to make a tremendous impact on the American economy, and the future of UAS in Kansas is especially bright,” Sen. Moran said. “From developing new curricula focused on the use of small UAS in precision agriculture, to participating in FAA’s Center of Excellence for UAS research and training, our state’s institutions of higher education are already working to harness the possibility of UAS and will continue to play an integral role in its development. I am proud to join Sen. Peters in introducing the Higher Education UAS Modernization Act, which will help empower our students and educators to innovate and advance this important technology.”

    Unmanned aircraft systems are one of the fastest-growing industries in the United States. Over the next few years, UAS are estimated to create more than 700,000 new jobs and have an overall economic impact of $13.6 billion. Applications for UAS include law enforcement and military, oil and gas, engineering, traffic monitoring, broadcast news reporting, computer science, agriculture and film.

    “The Association of American Universities and the Association of Public and Land-grant Universities thank Sens. Gary Peters and Jerry Moran for introducing the Higher Education Unmanned Aircraft Systems Modernization Act. We strongly support this bill, which is critical to the work of colleges and universities that seek to safely conduct a wide range of research and educational activities involving small UAS,” said the Association of American Universities and the Association of Public and Land-grant Universities in a joint statement. “Examples of this diverse and important work, much of which is federally funded, include developing new and improved aviation systems, as well as research and teaching in areas as varied as animal health, plant toxicology, entomology, engineering, architecture, sustainable nutrient management, soil science, biogeochemistry and aerospace engineering. We greatly appreciate Sen. Peters and Sen. Moran’s recognition of the importance of such educational and research initiatives, not only to higher education, but also to our nation’s innovation economy.”

    University of Kansas Engineering Dean Michael Branicky added, “The University of Kansas School Of Engineering fully supports legislation that would provide faculty and students greater opportunities for flying and testing unmanned aerial systems. As a leader in UAS design and development, such a bill is critical to KU Engineering as we work to advance technology in this field of national importance. This would allow for more flights, more experiments and more refining of our unmanned aerial vehicles. This results in better devices and systems, while simultaneously better preparing KU engineering students to enter the workforce and meet the challenges and demands of a rapidly growing industry.”

    The Higher Education UAS Modernization Act would allow students and educators at colleges and universities to operate unmanned aircraft without requiring specific approval from the FAA by meeting the following requirements:

    The institution of higher education adopts a UAS policy and designates a UAS point of contact that is charged with reviewing and approving all educational and research UAS flights.

    Any educational and research UAS flight must be under the supervision of an experienced “operator in command” who will ensure safety.

    Educational and research UAS flights are restricted to 400 feet above ground; cannot cause hazard or harm to persons or property; must be identifiable; cannot survey or create a nuisance on private property; must give right of way to full scale aircraft; and must operate above sites that are sufficiently far from populated areas.

    If the UAS is involved in an accident causing injury to a person or property, such accident must be reported to the FAA within 10 days.

    If the UAS is to be flown within 5 miles of a major airport or within 2 miles of any other airport or heliport, the UAS operator in command must first obtain permission from Air Traffic Control or, in the case of a small airport or heliport, the airport manager.

    The Higher Education UAS Modernization Act is supported by the Association of American Universities, Association of Public and Land-grant Universities, University of Michigan, Michigan State University, Michigan Technological University, Northwestern Michigan College, The University of Kansas, Wichita State University, Princeton University, University of Florida, Indiana University, Harvard University, The Pennsylvania State University, Duke University, Smith College, University of Missouri System and South Dakota State University.