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NASAO Participates in UAS Symposium

The FAA held a UAS Symposium in conjunction with Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University this week to broaden the dialogue with industry and the public on how to safely integrate unmanned aircraft into the National Airspace System.

NASAO’s Greg Principato said he was pleased to represent NASAO at the Symposium. “The purpose of the symposium was to generate discussion and ideas from stakeholders, and in this I believe the event was successful,” said Principato.  “There were plenty of ideas, some good discussion and a lot of excellent back and forth.  A number of important issues were discussed.”

FAA Administrator Michael Huerta and Deputy Administrator Mike Whitaker both noted the tremendous progress the FAA and industry have made on integration by working together collaboratively. They called on the attendees to build on this success by helping the FAA frame the next steps for future collaboration on the bigger integration challenges.

“Working together, we have accomplished a truly incredible amount in the last couple of years. But we’re still really at the beginning of the process,” Huerta said during his keynote address. “We need to start thinking about bigger challenges, so I propose that we use this symposium to frame these challenges together.”

Principato was invited to appear on the airports panel, and was joined by Victoria Wei of FAA and Justin Towles of AAAE.  “A lot of the discussion centered around the need to find practical solutions to the challenge of integrating UAS into the airspace, and around the confusion felt by users and airport managers over the processes involved,” said Principato.

Another key panel was on the issue of federal preemption of state and local authority.  “There are many facets of this issue that are clear, and many that are not,” noted Principato.  “Working through them will be a challenge and require everyone’s best efforts.”  That is why NASAO opposed the wide-ranging preemption that was included in the Senate-passed reauthorization bill.  “We remain convinced that these issues can and will be worked out; as long as everyone involved approaches them with a constructive attitude,” said Principato.

Huerta told attendees that safety is a shared responsibility. He said the FAA-industry partnership is working because both respect that they sometimes have different viewpoints but ultimately find common ground. This has resulted in a string of recent accomplishments.

For example, the FAA assembled a diverse task force last fall in which NASAO participated, that helped create a robust drone registration system in record time. Today, more than 425,000 people have registered their drones, absorbing the FAA’s shared safety message in the process.

Based on the success of the registration task force, the FAA formed an aviation rulemaking committee in March, in which NASAO was also pleased to participate, to develop recommendations for how the agency could allow certain unmanned aircraft to operate over people. The committee delivered a comprehensive report earlier this month that will help shape a new rule.

The agency has also streamlined the Section 333 and UAS test site processes to make it easier to fly. The small UAS rule, which will be finalized in late spring, will allow for routine commercial drone operations and eliminate the need for most Section 333 exemptions.

Principato concluded his remarks with two points, both of which were also stated by others:  First that the federal government needs to come together and, working with stakeholders and other units of government, issue some national standards that are easily understandable and sustainable.  “This needs to happen quickly,” said Principato.  And second, that there has not been enough effort made on UAS issues to work together.  Partisans on either side too often simply shut down discussion with some sort of apocalyptic comment about what will happen if we follow the other person’s idea.  “That simply has to stop, said Principato.  “We have work to do, and we can’t afford to be shutting each other down.”

The wide-ranging viewpoints and feedback provided during the UAS Symposium will inform the FAA’s long-term discussion on UAS integration. It will also mark the beginning of a new phase of the collaboration that will help the FAA identify and prioritize integration challenges. Administrator Huerta will report on next steps during AUVSI’s XPONENTIAL in May.

“The symposium was a good step,” said Principato.  “But the hard work is to follow.”

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