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AUVSI Calls on FAA to Assert its Authority over National Airspace, Finalize Small UAS Rule

Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International (AUVSI) President and CEO Brian Wynne urged the federal government Thursday at a Capitol Hill hearing to assert its authority and preempt state laws seeking to regulate the national airspace.

Wynne forewarned that, “In the absence of Federal Aviation Administration [FAA] action, we may soon be facing a legal quagmire.” He pointed out that, “Challenges to questionable state laws will tie up the courts and at significant expense to taxpayers. If the FAA feels it needs clarification of its authority, I would urge Congress to provide such clarity and legislatively settle this issue.”

AUVSI has emphasized that only the FAA can regulate the national airspace, and has urged the agency to finalize “its long-overdue small UAS rules as quickly as possible to help increase the safety of the skies.”

Meanwhile, as incidents of illegal drone use have tripled — prompting a stern warning from the FAA — federal lawmakers are working on legislation to crack down on rogue and illegal use of drones.

"We are less than three weeks away from the congressionally-mandated deadline of September 30 for the integration of unmanned aerial systems [UAS] into the national airspace,” Wynne told the House Committee on the Judiciary Subcommittee on Courts, Intellectual Property and the Internet. “The FAA has had more than three years to put a small UAS rule in place. There’s tremendous pent up demand for commercial UAS operations; yet the FAA isn’t expected to meet this deadline.”

“The lack of regulations isn’t just limiting the economic potential of this industry; it’s also causing states and municipalities to fill the void with laws that they may not have the authority to enforce,” Wynne told the panel, noting that, “The most recent example is California’s Senate Bill 142 (SB 142), which would have restricted UAS from flying below 350 feet over private property.”

“While my industry supports the safe, non-intrusive use of UAS technology, SB 142 would create inconsistencies with federal law,” Wynne told the lawmakers. “Only the FAA can regulate airspace; states and municipalities cannot. According to the US Code, ‘The United States government has exclusive sovereignty of airspace of the United States.’”

“Until the small UAS rule is finalized, the primary way commercial operators may fly is through an exemption,” Wynne stated. “That process started in May 2014 [and] the FAA has received more than 2,700 requests and granted more than 1,400 exemptions.”

“Commercial applications of unmanned aerial vehicles hold great promise. As commercial drone use becomes more affordable and accessible, the marketplace is finding new, innovative ways to apply drone use to both emerging and traditional industry needs,” said subcommittee chairman Darrell Issa (R-Calif.). “These applications hold the potential to change how we receive Internet service, various goods, and even how we monitor and access remote places of the world or disaster areas.”

However, he added, “At the same time, an expanded use of UAV technology requires that the public and private sectors work together to ensure consumers’ safety and privacy are fully protected.”

House Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.) echoed Issa, saying, “with the advent of any new technology comes some challenges.” He said policy and legislative implications for this new area of technology and the potential effects on issues including privacy, safety and intellectual property” must thoroughly be examined.

Chris Calabrese, vice president for policy at the Center for Democracy & Technology (CDT), said any regulation of UAVs must be done “in a manner that preserves both innovation and privacy.”

Calabrese told the subcommittee that, “CDT supports the many beneficial applications of UAS, but also acknowledges the potential for UAS to erode civil liberties. Federal and constitutional law do not provide individuals with clear and meaningful privacy protection from government UAS. Common law provides limited privacy protection from private UAS, though any direct privacy regulation of private UAS must be consistent with the First Amendment.”

“Public distrust, rooted in a perceived lack of privacy protection, hampers the domestic UAS industry and the growth of the technology,” he continued. “To reap the full benefits of UAS, Congress and the industry should take steps to address the public’s legitimate privacy concerns.”

CDT has recommended that Congress pass federal legislation to enact privacy and transparency standards for UAS – especially law enforcement use. CDT also recommends the UAS industry develops and adopts a strong and accountable code of conduct.

Homeland Security Todayhttp://www.hstoday.us
The Government Technology & Services Coalition's Homeland Security Today (HSToday) is the premier news and information resource for the homeland security community, dedicated to elevating the discussions and insights that can support a safe and secure nation. A non-profit magazine and media platform, HSToday provides readers with the whole story, placing facts and comments in context to inform debate and drive realistic solutions to some of the nation’s most vexing security challenges.

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