United States: FAA UAS Symposium: Jim Williams Reports From The Front Lines

Last Updated: April 28 2016
Article by James H. Williams

Earlier this week (April 19-20) the FAA held its first ever Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS) Symposium at the Daytona Beach Ocean Center. The FAA called the meeting as “a forum for the UAS Industry and stakeholder community to provide input and feedback directly to the FAA decision-makers on topics related to UAS Integration.” They were not kidding about the “directly to decision-makers” part. The FAA brought a “Who’s Who” of the senior most management of the FAA.

FAA Administrator Michael Huerta opened the session with a recap of the FAA’s recent accomplishments including the registration task force and subsequent rule, the micro UAS task force, and the improvements to the Section 333 process and operational limitations. He also restated his commitment to deliver the Small UAS Rule by “late Spring.” He cautioned the industry, however, that there are still areas of risk that need to be addressed and he mentioned the possible impact of the recent drone vs. Airbus 320 incident at Heathrow Airport. He also mentioned that the FAA is preparing a strategic plan for UAS integration that will lay out the tasks that the agency still needs to address. For those of you who missed it, the full text of the Administrator’s speech can be read here: Michael Huerta’s Remarks at UAS Symposium

Other notable FAA Executives who spoke at the symposium included:

  • Michael Whittaker, Deputy FAA Administrator
  • Lynn Ray, Vice President of Mission Support Services, the organization in Air Traffic that is in charge of implementing UAS into the airspace.
  • Jim Eck, the new Associate Administrator of the Next Gen Organization and responsible for all the FAA’s research
  • John Duncan, Director of the Flight Standards Service who is responsible for certifying pilots and air carriers
  • Dorenda Baker, Director of the Aircraft Certification Service who certify aircraft and parts
  • Earl Lawrence, Director of the UAS Integration Office, responsible for coordinating all of the Aviation Safety UAS integration efforts
  • Victoria Wei, Deputy Director, Airport Planning and Programming who is responsible for national airport planning, airport grants, and passenger facility charges
  • Reggie Govan, FAA Chief Council, FAA’s head lawyer
  • Marke (Hoot) Gibson, Sr. Advisor on UAS Integration, responsible for coordinating UAS integration across the FAA Lines of Business

NASA Executives, other FAA executives, Executives from the Department of Defense and many high level representatives from the aviation industry rounded out the speakers. The FAA spent the first afternoon describing in some detail their plans to adapt the current rules and procedures to integrate Unmanned Aircraft into the US Airspace. Specifically they addressed the airspace changes in work, the ongoing certification changes and the technological initiatives that will help enable full UAS integration into the NAS.

The second day consisted largely of listening sessions on the following topics:

  • Engaging Industry
  • Airspace Management
  • Aircraft Certification
  • Pilot/Operator/Maintenance Certification
  • Airspace Authorities (Federal Preemption vs. State and Local Laws)
  • Research Challenges and Opportunities
  • Managing Public Perception
  • Airports Issues
  • Technological Enablers and Restrictors

The symposium closed with brief summaries of the results of the listening sessions. The FAA plans to share the briefings and results collected on their website: FAA UAS Symposium webpage. The FAA also plans to roll what they learned at the symposium into their upcoming strategic plan for UAS integration.

Overall, the event seemed to be very well received by the attendees and useful to the government officials who participated. Hopefully, this type of high-level interaction with stakeholders will continue, so that final UAS integration will be both safe and flexible enough to accommodate the rapid pace of technological innovation.

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