Sen. Warner applauds unmanned systems priorities in FAA bill

The Senate Commerce Committee has approved legislation to reauthorize the Federal Aviation Administration through 2021, and it incorporates several provisions from the Safe DRONE Act of 2017bipartisan legislation sponsored by Sen. Mark R. Warner (D-VA) to advance the development of unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) to encourage American innovation and competitiveness.

mark warner“Not since the earliest days of the cell phone industry have I seen technology with as much transformative potential as unmanned systems,” said. Sen. Warner. “As the UAS industry continues to develop at a rapid pace, we need to ensure the U.S. is well positioned to keep pace with the technology so this development doesn’t just go overseas. To that end, I’m pleased that the Committee-passed version of this legislation includes several provisions that will move us forward in efforts to safely integrate this technology into commercial use and further harness its potential – including a five-year extension of the FAA Unmanned Aircraft System test sites like the Mid-Atlantic Partnership at Virginia Tech that are the vanguard of this burgeoning technology.”

Provisions from Sen. Warner’s bipartisan Safe DRONE Act in the FAA bill will:

  • Extend authorization of FAA-designed UAS test sites five more years, through 2024.
  • Provide the FAA the authority to move forward with registration and fee requirements for small UAS to promote safe and responsible use, while maintaining certain exemptions for the model aircraft community.
  • Create a Center of Excellence for Community Colleges to offer training for UAS operations and maintenance to build a skilled workforce.
  • Require a report on communications and spectrum needs to facilitate safe integration of UAS into the national airspace system.

A 2015 report by the Teal Group, an aerospace and defense market analysis firm based in Fairfax, VA, estimated that UAS production accounts for more than $4 billion of total economic activity annually and is expected to grow to $14 billion annually by 2025, totaling $93 billion.

Sen. Warner has been a strong supporter of research and investment in unmanned systems, including driverless cars, drones, and unmanned submersibles. Virginia is home to one of six FAA-approved sites across the country where researchers are testing the safest and most effective ways to incorporate UAS into the existing airspace. The UAS test site at Virginia Tech recently announced a partnership with Google’s parent company to research food delivery using unmanned aerial vehicles.

In addition, the FAA bill maintains the current High Density (“Slot”) and Perimeter rules at Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport, preserving the regional balance among Reagan, Washington Dulles International Airport, and Thurgood Marshall Baltimore Washington International Airport – as a bipartisan coalition of 15 regional members of Congress urged in April – a significant victory for the region.

Added Sen. Warner, “We’ve seen in past debates that proposals to significantly change the Slot and Perimeter rules have threatened to derail the entire FAA reauthorization process. I’m pleased that there were no attempts in Committee to disrupt operational stability among the region’s airports.”

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