Drone Integration Will Transform Economy

U.S. Sens. Mark R. Warner (D-VA) and John Thune (R-SD) introduced the Increasing Competitiveness for American Drones Act of 2023. The comprehensive legislation is meant to streamline the approvals process for beyond visual line of sight (BVLOS) drone flights and clear the way for drones to be used for the commercial transport of goods across the country. This will ensure that the U.S. remains globally competitive in a growing industry increasingly dominated by competitors like China. 

Current Rules Slow Industry Growth

As of now, each BVLOS operation that takes flight requires uncrewed aircraft system (UAS) operators to seek waivers from the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA). The FAA, however, has not laid out a consistent set of criteria for the granting of waivers, which makes the process of approving drone flights slow and unpredictable. This new act will issue a new ruling to allow BVLOS under certain conditions. 

“Drones have the ability to transform so much of the way we do business. Beyond package delivery, drones can change the way we grow crops, manage disasters, maintain our infrastructure, and administer medicine,” says Sen. Warner. “If we want the drones of tomorrow to be manufactured in the U.S. and not in China, we have to start working today to integrate them into our airspace. Revamping the process for approving commercial drone flight will catapult the United States into the 21st century, allowing us to finally start competing at the global level as technological advancements make drone usage ever more common.” 

“Drones have the potential to transform the economy, with innovative opportunities for transportation and agriculture that would benefit rural states like South Dakota,” Sen. Thune says. “I’m proud to support this legislation that provides a clear framework for the approval of complex drone operations, furthering the integration of these aircraft into the National Airspace System.” 

Legislation Highlights

The bill requires the FAA to establish a risk methodology that will be utilized to determine the level of regulatory scrutiny required. According to the proposed legislation, the risk methodology would include a variety of different factors that include size, weight, speed, area of flight, time of flight, flights over people, proximity to airports, and other relevant factors.

  • Operators of small UAS under 55lbs simply have to declare that they conducted a risk assessment and meet the standard, subject to audit compliance by the FAA.
  • Operators of UAS between 55lbs and 1320lbs must submit materials based on the risk assessment to the FAA to seek a “Special Airworthiness Certificate.” UAS in this category may be limited to operating no more than 400 feet above ground level.
  • Operators of UAS over 1320lbs must undergo the full “type certification” process—the standard approval process for crewed aircraft.

“Commercial drone operations provide valuable services to the American public and workforce – but significant regulatory hurdles are hampering these benefits from reaching their fullest potential and jeopardize U.S. global leadership in aviation. The regulatory challenges are not driven by safety, they are hampered by bureaucracy. We accordingly have urged Congress to prioritize drone integration, and we are grateful for the support of Senators Warner and Thune in this cause. AUVSI is proud to endorse this legislation, and we urge Congress to include it as part of their critical work this year to pass a multi-year FAA Reauthorization,” says Michael Robbins, Chief Advocacy Officer of the Association for Uncrewed Vehicle Systems International (AUVSI). 

Photograph of a yellow drone delivery a package
The proposed bipartisan legislation would accelerate the use of drones for commercial purposes, including drone delivery (Photo Credit: iLexx- envatoelements)

Act Would Create A New Position and Unit

The Increasing Competitiveness for American Drones Act would also create the position of “Associate Administrator of UAS Integration” at the FAA. The position would be filled by the FAA Administrator in consultation with the Secretary of Transportation. The Associate Administrator of UAS Integration would be responsible for:

  • Ensuring the safe integration of UAS into the national airspace system.
  • Encouraging and facilitating a commercially viable UAS industry and leadership of the United States in UAS.
  • Increasing overall safety of the transportation system on a mode-neutral basis.
  • Promoting the global leadership of the United States in advanced aviation.
  • Managing the UAS Integration Office.

A UAS Certification Unit would also be created with the sole authority to issue all rulemaking, certifications, and waivers. This new organizational structure would create a central rulemaking body for UAS, allowing for a more uniform process.  The unit membership would include FAA employees from various lines of business of the FAA

“The Commercial Drone Alliance applauds the introduction of the Increasing Competitiveness for American Drones Act of 2023, and we commend and thank Senator Warner and Senator Thune for their leadership on these important issues. While the U.S. has lagged behind other countries in developing and deploying uncrewed aircraft systems (UAS), this legislation provides the U.S. with the opportunity to reestablish its prominence as a global leader in advanced aviation and compete more effectively in the global economy,” says The Commercial Drone Alliance.

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