The FAA was scheduled to supply a list of possible locations for drone testing sites by Aug. 12, but has yet to deliver. This week, politicians and industry stakeholders are putting public pressure on the agency to make good on promises to move forward with what they expect to become a multibillion-dollar industry, and a job creator.
The August deadline was the first in a series of milestones aimed at full integration of unmanned aerial systems (UAS) — aka “drones” — into the national airspace system by the end of September 2015. The current FAA funding authorization bill includes language mandating drone integration by that date, but the FAA is already behind schedule. Skeptics have called the timetable unrealistic, at best.
Aviation advocacy groups deeply involved in the planning process for full integration have adopted a “wait and see” attitude, with safety as their top priority. In the meantime, civil liberty advocates are more concerned with privacy issues – the idea that drones with high-definition video cameras could violate citizens’ Fourth Amendment rights.
In a recent letter to the FAA, Alaska’s lieutenant governor Mead Treadwell (also chairman of the Aerospace States Association) wrote: “While the U.S. has led the way in the field of aviation since the Wright brothers first took flight nearly 110 years ago, we currently find ourselves in jeopardy of losing our global advantage.”
FAA Administrator Michael Huerta responded, “We’re dedicated to working with stakeholders in this growing industry…What we’re working on is defining the parameters of safe integration of these very diverse systems into the world’s most complex airspace.”
Look for more in-depth coverage of the upcoming integration of drones into American airspace in our November print issue.