State and local governments continue to struggle with sensible, much less consistent, regulation of unmanned aircraft systems, according to FAA Administrator Michael Huerta. Speaking at the AUVSI Xponential 2017 conference in Dallas this week, Huerta said the FAA is has made understanding what state and local governments want and need to regulate drone operations a priority.
Although the FAA put in place FAR 107 last year for small drone guidance, local communities continue to impose a patchwork of regulations and requirements that are sometimes at odds with the FAA’s claim to oversee everything that flies. But Huerta said that’s only one key area the FAA is examining in overseeing UAS ops. It just released preliminary data on the risk of operating drones over people and crowds and next month, it plans to begin initial testing that will eventually lead to certification rules for over-crowd flight by drones. Another worry the FAA is addressing, Huerta said, is on the mind of many pilots: “What happens when an unmanned aircraft collides with a manned aircraft?” He said the FAA has research projects underway on this issue, too.
That there’s cause for concern is proven by some remarkable numbers Huerta quoted. More than 820,000 drones have been registered by the FAA, about 60,000 of which he said are drones intended for commercial use.
And just since Part 107 went effect less than a year ago, some 43,000 remote pilot certificates have been issued. It’s unclear how much actual flight activity these numbers represent, however. But Huerta left no doubt that operators of drones are pilots. “You may be standing on the ground,” he told several thousand attendees at Exponential, “but you are still an aviator.”
Wednesday’s address marked Huerta’s swan song speech to AUVSI; his term ends in January 2018. He commended the industry for its commitment to safety and noted that aviation in general is safer than it has ever been. “New technologies continue to drive down risk,” he said, adding that unmanned technology is “poised to make the world a better place.”