Last week, there were two key developments in the effort to integrate unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) into the national airspace.
First, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) testified before the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee at a June 17 hearing entitled a "Drones: The Next Generation of Commerce." During the hearing, members of Congress expressed their frustration regarding the lack of progress towards a final rulemaking establishing the parameters for commercial use of small UAS – under 55 pounds – in the national airspace. During this hearing, Michael Whitaker, Deputy Administrator of the FAA, testified that the small UAS final rulemaking would be issued within one year from the hearing – i.e., by June 2016. This would finalize the notice of proposed rulemaking issued by the FAA on February 15, 2015. This is notable because the final rulemaking would establish U.S. parameters for the commercial use of small UAS, and replace the current Section 333 exemption process with a rulemaking.
Second, a coalition of 15 of the leading news media organizations began hands-on research flight testing of small UAS for newsgathering on June 16. The research flight testing is being conducted in coordination with Virginia Tech, an FAA-approved test site. The testing will include two phases of testing with reporters and photographers from the coalition. Phase 1 includes classroom training and hands-on flight training in a remote location. Reporters and photographers piloting the UAS with a Virginia Tech pilot in command. Phase 2 will follow and will include newsgathering test flights in a controlled urban environment. This effort will result in a report to FAA on behalf of the 15 participating media organizations establishing the appropriate safety procedures to support Section 333 applications and inform the final UAS rulemaking to ensure reporters and photographers can operate UAS for news gathering.