The PJ Tatler

FAA Official Tells Drone Convention Some Approvals to be Expedited Before Rules Complete

Just a couple of days after the Federal Aviation Administration acknowledged that a near-miss in the skies between an airliner and drone could have had “catastrophic” results, an FAA told a drone industry conference that the agency wants to expedite approvals for some commercial drone operations.

Jim Williams, the head of the FAA’s Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS) office, said in a recent speech posted on YouTube that the incident showed the need “for detect-and-avoid standards to be developed and right-of-way rules to be obeyed” when integrating drones into U.S. airspace.

“Imagine a metal and plastic object — especially with (a) big lithium battery — going into a high-speed engine,” he told a San Francisco drone expo. “The results could be catastrophic.”

The March 22 incident involved U.S. Airways Flight 4650 coming from Charlotte, N.C., which encountered the drone five miles from the Tallahassee airport. The owner of the drone, which was flying at about 2,300 feet, has not been found, according to CNN.

At the Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International drone mega-conference in Orlando today, Williams announced that the FAA is working to expedite approval of some unmanned systems uses even before rules on drone use are finalized.

Williams said industry representatives for filmmaking, powerline inspection, precision agriculture and flare stack inspection approached the FAA about expediting the approvals, and those are expected to be granted with “limited” permissions.

AUVSI and a few dozen other industry groups recently called on the FAA to allow limited operations immediately under its authority granted by Congress, arguing that they were losing too much money by waiting for the rules.

In March, a National Transportation Safety Board judge threw out the FAA’s $10,000 fine against the operator of a small unmanned aircraft, leaving the rules for drone operation and enforcement fuzzy.

“We applaud the FAA for working collaboratively with the industry and other stakeholders to help UAS technology begin to take off,” said AUVSI President and CEO Michael Toscano. “UAS have a host of societal and economic benefits, and many industries are clamoring to harness their capabilities. Limited commercial operations is a good first step, but we also need to begin the small UAS rulemaking immediately. We look forward to continue working with the FAA to advance UAS integration safely and responsibly.”

(Inside last year’s AUVSI conference in D.C.)