News and Commentary. This could be the year – or not. The FAA has been working under a series of funding extensions for years now. A multi-year package hasn’t been passed since 2012 – well before the drone industry enjoyed financial impact predictions of billions.
Last year’s discussions on FAA Reauthorization seemed doomed from the start: the distance between “let’s privatize air traffic control” and “let’s not” was simply to great to bridge, even after multiple versions. This year, however, the House has eliminated that idea and simplified the bill – leading some to hope that this summer, Congress might be able to reach compromise.
For the drone industry, passing the FAA Reauthorization Act could provide some clarity. The conflicting amendments included in the current House version would, presumably, be discussed. The concept of a “micro drone” classification for regulations might once again be put forward. The “sense of Congress” and the usual deadlines and encouragements for the FAA to complete certain regulatory processes with regards to drones would clarify priorities and help the industry in development.
The drone industry is not the only one watching, of course. AVWeb.com reports that “The General Aviation Manufacturers Association (GAMA) and the Aerospace Industries Association (AIA) sent a letter to Congress on Monday urging the U.S. Senate to consider the FAA Reauthorization Act (S. 1405) as soon as possible. Both organizations expressed support for the bill in the letter (PDF), writing that “This comprehensive bill includes key FAA certification and regulatory reforms that will help bring new safety technologies to the market, strengthen aviation sales and exports, and more effectively utilize the resources of the FAA and industry.””
The package may be stalled, however, by issues entirely unrelated to drones. Aviation week reports that “The U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) told Sen. Bill Nelson (D–Florida), ranking member of the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation, in a May 23 letter that consumer protections included in both chambers’ FAA reauthorization bills are “unnecessary, expensive and counterproductive.””
Past history – and current disagreements – make it hard to be entirely optimistic, even with lawmakers sticking around for more of the summer. Chris Korody of Dronin’ On says: “Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell crushed summer vacation dreams across the Beltway Tuesday when he canceled most of August recess, citing the need to overcome “historic obstruction by Senate Democrats” and vote on nominations and spending bills — but the FAA bill (S. 1405 (115)) also made its way onto a to-do list circulated by a McConnell aide. Sen. John Thune said he expects the longer session will “enhance” prospects for the bill being passed. Even if it does, though, it’s worth keeping in mind that even with the extra school time, lawmakers still might not wrap up a conference on the legislation before the end of the year. [emphasis mine]”
You can track the progress of FAA Reauthorization here.
Miriam McNabb is the Editor-in-Chief of DRONELIFE and CEO of JobForDrones, a professional drone services marketplace, and a fascinated observer of the emerging drone industry and the regulatory environment for drones. Miriam has a degree from the University of Chicago and over 20 years of experience in high tech sales and marketing for new technologies.