Panel studies how to integrate commercial drones into airspace

The House Committee on Science, Space and Technology, led by Rep. Lamar Smith (R-Texas), held a hearing on Wednesday to study research and development conducted by the Federal Aviation Administration and NASA that may result in the development of commercial drones that would exist in the National Airspace System.

The committee said that, if they are operated properly, unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS) could be beneficial to society.

“Commercial drones have the potential to carry out a wide range of tasks across a broad range of sectors, including agriculture, weather, energy and disaster relief,” Smith said. “However, due to the delays in integrating UAS into the National Airspace System, the public is not yet allowed to use drones to do any of these things. Many other countries have developed a regulatory framework supportive of drone use for such activities. Consequently, some U.S.-based companies have moved research, development, testing and high-paying jobs overseas.”

Two years ago, the Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International said that in the next decade, more than 100,000 U.S. jobs might be created as a result of UAS integration into the National Airspace System. The report also said continued delays in integrating drones into the National Airspace System might cost the U.S. more than $10 billion per year in potential earnings from investment in drone research.

The FAA and NASA are collaborating to produce a plan for safe and successful integration of drones into the National Airspace System. Their research includes the critical areas of sense-and-avoid capability and command-and-control technologies.

Testifying at the hearing were several officials, including Ed Waggoner, director, Integrated Systems Research Program, Aeronautics Research Mission Directorate, NASA; James Williams, manager, UAS Integration Office, Aviation Safety Organization, FAA; John Lauber, co-chairman, Committee on Autonomy Research for Civil Aviation, National Research Council; Brian Wynne, CEO and president, Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International; Colin Guinn, chief revenue officer, 3D Robotics, Small UAV Coalition Member; John Hansman, T. Wilson Professor of Aeronautics and Astronautics, Massachusetts Institute of Technology