WASHINGTON – Today, U.S. Sens. Mark R. Warner (D-VA), John Hoeven (R-ND), Catherine Cortez Masto (D-NV), and Dean Heller (R-NV) introduced bipartisan legislation designed to advance the development of unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) and build on the Federal Aviation Administration’s (FAA) efforts to safely integrate them into the National Airspace System. The Safe DRONE Act of 2017 will ensure that the United States keeps pace in the development and implementation of unmanned technology.
Last year, a federal court struck down additional requirements instituted by FAA that set in place a streamlined and user-friendly web-based aircraft registration process for owners of recreational unmanned aircraft. The courts found that FAA lacked the authority to regulate this technology. This legislation provides Congressional authority for FAA to continue the registration and marking of small UAS and promote their safe and responsible use.
“Not since the nascent days of the cell phone industry have I seen technology with as much transformative potential as unmanned systems,” said. Sen. Warner. “As the UAS industry continues to develop at a rapid pace, we need to ensure the U.S. is well positioned to keep pace with the technology so this development doesn’t just go overseas. The Safe DRONE Act takes important steps forward to safely integrate this technology into commercial use and further harness its potential.”
“The UAS industry needs legal and regulatory certainty, both to realize the benefits of this technology and to ensure its safe private and commercial use,” Sen. Hoeven said. “Our bipartisan bill supports the integration of UAS into the national airspace and helps continue our nation’s leadership in this emerging industry, particularly through the extension of research at the FAA’s national test sites, the development of an unmanned traffic management system and the creation of a UAS training initiative at community colleges.”
“For years, the state of Nevada has been leading in drone innovation, presenting our state with opportunities to seek new ways to innovate and grow our economy,” said Senator Cortez Masto. “This new legislation will allow us to harness the economic benefits of unmanned aircraft systems, and its potential to improve our way of life. By training a skilled workforce, enhancing the safety and security of drones, and providing essential funding for research development, Nevada can diversify its economy and continue to be at the forefront of this revolutionary technology in a safe and secure manner.”
“With Nevada leading the nation in unmanned aircraft system technology and home to one of several UAS test sites, it’s important that federal policy keeps pace with innovation to ensure that Nevada remains at the forefront of cutting-edge technologies,” said Heller. “The Safe DRONE Act is a bipartisan effort that will advance the UAS industry so that our country and the Silver State can continue to reap their economic benefits, and I’m proud to support it.”
Among its provisions, the Safe DRONE Act includes language to help build a trained and professional workforce in the UAS industry, advances work on the development of a low-altitude safe and secure traffic management system, and directs robust collaboration to address critical needs such as a comprehensive security policy and a long-term plan for spectrum and communications infrastructure needs.
A 2015 report by the Teal Group, an aerospace and defense market analysis firm based in Fairfax, VA, estimated that UAS production accounts for more than $4 billion of total economic activity annually and is expected to grow to $14 billion annually by 2025, totaling $93 billion.
The Safe DRONE Act of 2017:
- Develops a Trained UAS Workforce. Directs the Secretary of Transportation to designate a consortium of Community and Technical Colleges aimed at expanding the capacity of those colleges to train students for career opportunities in the UAS industry, including maintenance and repair, flight operations related to specific applications and data analysis.
- Coordinates Federal UAS Spectrum Policy. Establishes an inter-agency working group, with a broad array of stakeholders, tasked with developing a cohesive federal policy to address the near-term and long-term communications and spectrum needs to facilitate safe integration of UAS into the national airspace system.
- Advances Unmanned Traffic Management. Directs the Secretary of Transportation, in coordination with NASA, to develop an implementation plan within one year to achieve full operational capability of UAS traffic management.
- Enhances UAS Safety and Security. Establishes an inter-agency working group involving relevant federal security agencies to develop recommendations for enhanced safety and security of expanded small UAS operations beyond visual line of sight and over people, and requires the FAA release rules within one year of enactment.
- Provides UAS Registration Authority. Gives Congressional authorization for FAA to continue registration and marking requirement for small UAS to promote safe and responsible use, but provides certain exemptions for the model aircraft community.
- Extends Research Opportunities at UAS Test Sites. Extends Congressional authorization of FAA-designated UAS test sites through FY 2024, and allocates $14 million in federal funding for research and development through the test sites.
- Supports Emergency Operations Guidelines. Emphasizes Congressional support for clearly defined FAA rules allowing for civil and public operators to utilize UAS in assisting emergency response operations, such as firefighting, search and rescue and post-disaster infrastructure restoration efforts.
- Continues Development of UAS Industry. Exempts rules primarily related to UAS operations from the President’s “one-in, two-out” Executive Order to allow for continued development of the UAS industry through establishing new federal rules for operations.
“This legislation includes several key provisions to further the nation’s global lead in commercial unmanned aircraft systems. These initiatives will help expand the training, research, and public policy needed to support the thousands of jobs the industry is forecast to create, and integrate the thousands of UAS that are anticipated to be flying in our nation’s airspace during the next several years. We appreciate the senators’ efforts to enable the expansion of commercial UAS so that businesses and individuals across the country can realize its full potential,” said Brian Wynne, President & CEO of the Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International.
“The UAS industry is widely expected to drive economic growth and human capability across multiple sectors. We’ve seen this tremendous potential firsthand at the test site. But as a relatively young industry, it needs federal coordination and regulation to smooth the way for growth and guide development, particularly in key areas like UAS spectrum policy and unmanned traffic management. This bill lays the groundwork for deliberate, rational, and significant progress,” said Mark Blanks, Director of the Virginia Tech Mid-Atlantic Aviation Partnership, which operates one of the seven FAA-designated UAS test sites.
“USAV is very pleased that Senator Warner has introduced the Safe Drone Act of 2017. The Act addresses key issues that need to be resolved in order for commercial use of UAS to grow in Virginia and across the United States. USAV encourages Congress to move forward on the Act and we look forward to working with Senator Warner in his effort to protect a vibrant business climate for unmanned systems,” said Kevin Pomfret, Executive Director of the Unmanned Systems Association of Virginia (USAV).
Sen. Warner has been a strong supporter of research and investment in unmanned systems, including driverless cars, drones, and unmanned submersibles. Virginia is home to one of six FAA-approved sites across the country where researchers are testing the safest and most effective ways to incorporate UAS into the existing airspace. The UAS test site at Virginia Tech recently announced a partnership with Google’s parent company to research food delivery using unmanned aerial vehicles.
The full text of this bill can be found here.