The head of the primary unmanned aerial systems (UAS) industry group strongly urged the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) to finalize small UAS rules “as quickly as possible,” and for Congress to move forward with a 2015 FAA reauthorization bill, during a hearing a hearing Wednesday by the House Committee on Small Business.
The purpose of the hearing was to examine how small businesses will use drones for commercial activities. Currently, commercial operations of unmanned aircraft are very limited; however, the FAA is working towards safely integrating them into the national airspace system.
Earlier this year, the FAA issued a proposed rule to permit small unmanned aircraft (those weighing 55 pounds or less) to operate for non-hobby, non-recreational purposes. Once the regulation is finalized, the FAA has said it expects small businesses will conduct the majority of commercial operations.
The Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International (AUVSI) President and CEO Brian Wynne emphasized the impact that unmanned aircraft systems can have on small businesses and encouraged integration of these systems into the National Airspace System. Wynne also called for Congress to pass and the president to sign an FAA reauthorization measure before the current authorization expires this September.
“UAS increase human potential, allowing us to execute dangerous or difficult tasks safely and efficiently,” Wynne said in his prepared remarks. “From inspecting pipelines and surveying bridges to filming movies and providing farmers with aerial views of their crops, the applications of UAS are virtually limitless and offer a superior way to see what needs to be seen, in less time and at less expense. It’s no wonder businesses – small and large – are clamoring to use this technology.”
“Since Congress tasked the FAA with creating UAS regulations in 2012,” he noted, “the technology has gone from a specialized tool to a must-have business asset. The flood of commercial exemption requests to the FAA shows that a mature UAS commercial market is waiting to be unleashed.”
AUVSI said, “Since the exemption process began in May 2014, more than 700 businesses have received permission to operate UAS commercially, the vast majority of which are small businesses.”
Wynne highlighted three such businesses: PrecisionHawk, an aerial surveying company based in North Carolina; Aerial Mob, a California-based film company; and Realtor Douglas Trudeau, who uses UAS to photograph his real estate listings in Arizona.
“The success of these businesses, Wynne said, “demonstrates the need for the FAA to finalize the rules for small UAS as soon as possible in order to establish a framework “that will allow anyone who follows the rules to fly.”
Continuing, Wynne told the committee, “The FAA continues to approve about 50 new commercial operations a week, a process that has been recently streamlined. However, this current system of case-by-case approvals – whether streamlined or not – isn’t a long-term solution for the many small businesses wanting to fly.”
“As an industry, we want to see the integration of UAS proceed and without any further delays. It’s important that the FAA finalize the small UAS rules as quickly as possible … the integration will establish rules for the commercial use of UAS so that small businesses from every industry sector can take advantage of this innovative technology,” he said.
Additionally, Wynne urged Congress to move forward with a FAA reauthorization measure before the current one expires on September 30 to expand the ability of small businesses to use UAS commercially and encourage innovation and collaboration between government and private sector stakeholders.
According to a 2013 economic impact study by AUVSI, the UAS industry potentially could create more than 100,000 new jobs and more than $82 billion in economic impact within the first ten years following UAS integration into the national airspace.
“From my perspective, small businesses have played a vital role in the creation and growth of the UAS industry in the United States. Without doubt, a significant portion of the innovation in the UAS industry has come from entrepreneurial start-up companies,” the committee was told by Tim McLain, director of the Center for Unmanned Aircraft Systems at Brigham Young University.
The center brings together researchers from industry and academia to collaborate on research challenges facing the UAS industry. The center is sponsored by the National Science Foundation and receives much of its financial support from industry members that include many of the leading UAS companies and government labs. Research also involves the University of Colorado, Boulder and Virginia Tech.
Involved in UAS research for over 15 years, McLain has interacted with small businesses in a variety of ways. He told the panel that, “UAS technology, particularly for small, lower-cost aircraft, truly represents a disruptive innovation. Advancements in batteries, miniature GPS receivers, microprocessors, electronics, materials and sensors have made the small, unmanned air craft of today possible."
He said, "These small UAS have created new markets for aircraft among an entirely different set of consumers. Professional and consumer-grade small unmanned aircraft are displacing piloted aircraft from many markets, such as aerial photography and mapping. Furthermore, they provide a low-cost alternative to military-grade small UAS and could potentially disrupt the defense related markets as their reliability increases.”
“Just ten years ago,” McLain explained, “the small UAS market was not profitable enough for most large defense contractors to pursue. During the last decade, as UAS have had a transformational impact on military operations and as the promise of regulatory change has increased their viability for commercial applications, larger companies have taken greater interest in small UAS."
"Illustrating the importance of small business to the UAS industry, a common approach for large companies to enter or become more competitive in the UAS marketplace has been for them to acquire small, agile innovative UAS companies," McLain added.