Unmanned Aerial Systems: Let American Innovation Take-Off

May 29, 2015

The country is rightly moving forward with integrating small unmanned aerial systems (UAS) – or “drones” - into the national air space. To ignore or attempt to ban this exciting technology ensures the loss of billions in economic opportunities and thousands of American jobs to international competitors such as Europe, Japan and, most certainly, China. We cannot afford to sideline ourselves.

UAS technology is here and now. Amazon and Google are already testing their aerial-delivery services in Canada and Australia. Some U.S. manufacturers have partnered with foreign firms and relocated operations abroad, targeting sales overseas. These actions have a measurable cost to our economy.

The House Aviation Subcommittee, which I chair, has been forward-thinking, recognizing UAS would move from the military theatre into commercial applications such as agriculture, real estate, medical transport, search & rescue etc. The opportunities are limitless as long as we do not limit them.

In 2012, Congress tasked the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) with safely integrating UAS to minimize risk on land and in the air. Legitimate privacy concerns are also being examined.

Some argue benefits do not outweigh the risks. Inherent risks are associated with any new technology, but those risks can be managed. New sense-and-avoid technologies allow unmanned vehicles to avoid restricted airspace, buildings or unseen obstacles without relying solely on the operator. Combined with user accountability and realistic federal guidelines, we will reduce risk while permitting the U.S. unmanned industry to grow.

New Jersey is better positioned than most to gain economically from the UAS boom because of new and existing assets within our state. The 2012 FAA Authorization Act dictated the creation of six test sites – including the joint operation of New Jersey-Virginia-Maryland - to collect UAS data established in controlled settings. The FAA Technical Center in Egg Harbor Township – the nation’s premier aviation R&D facility - is at the center of UAS research and integration.

But we are not yet where we should be. The FAA does not effectively promote the test sites as a means to further integration. I’ve implored Administrator Huerta to immediately implement UAS operations at the test sites under conditions consistent with February’s proposed federal rule, using real-world data in real-time to speed up and improve safety, privacy and integration before the self-imposed 2017 deadline.

If the U.S. is to remain competitive, more must be done without hesitation. Not all commercial applications require extensive regulations; common-sense applications, like utility pole inspections, should advance. French farmers have wide latitude and enjoy significant benefits by using UAS for monitoring and fertilizing crops. Conversely, our farmers face limits on spraying their orchards and farmland. When 3-D modeling of roads and buildings via unmanned vehicles assists German engineers, why isn’t this cost-effective technology being widely used to inspect and repair our infrastructure?

The subcommittee is currently writing the next FAA authorization. We are moving forward with UAS integration, which will grow our economy and create new opportunities. It is time to let American innovation take-off.

 

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