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U.S. senators question why UAV development lags behind

Jan. 21, 2014, Washington, D.C. - Drone advocates urged the Federal Aviation Administration at a Senate hearing Wednesday to allow the aircraft into general airspace faster because countries such as Japan are friendlier to the innovative technology.


January 21, 2014
By USA Today

Topics

Some members of the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation
Committee voiced concern about maintaining drone safety and protecting
privacy as more drones fill the skies.

"Lives are at stake," said
Sen. Jay Rockefeller, D-W.Va., the panel chairman. "One of the most
important problems the FAA and the industry are trying to solve is
avoiding collisions between unmanned and piloted aircraft."

There
is a sense of urgency to the testing and development of regulations.
Congress set a September 2015 deadline for the FAA to regulate sharing
the skies between drones and commercial airliners.

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FAA
Administrator Michael Huerta said the agency must set standards for
safely operating drones, making sure they avoid other aircraft and
ensuring they land safely if they lose connection with the remote pilot.

"There will be challenges to this integration," Huerta said.

He
released a road map for the industry in November and named six test
groups in December. The FAA anticipates 7,500 drones in the skies within
five years, if regulations allow. Huerta said regulations will be
prioritized and phased in.

"We must meet these obligations in a thoughtful and careful manner," Huerta said.

Missy
Cummings, a former Navy fight pilot who is director of the humans and
autonomy lab at Duke University, doubted the FAA would meet the 2015
deadline.

"While we are making some progress towards this goal,
the United States is lagging, not leading, the commercial drone boom,"
she said.

Manufacturers are impatient.

Yamaha Motor's RMAX
drone has been fertilizing crops in Japan for 20 years and more recently
in Australia and South Korea, according to Henio Arcangeli, vice
president for new business development. Drones fertilize a part of Japan
equal in size to Delaware and Rhode Island combined, he said.

At
140 pounds and 9 feet long, the $100,000 remote-piloted helicopter is
larger than hand-held hobbyist aircraft that could win earlier federal
approval.

Trained pilots keep an eye on the drone during daylight
hours, Arcangeli said. The drones can fertilize 11 acres of vineyards in
Napa Valley in the time it takes a tractor to cover 1 acre, he said.

"There
is no reason to delay all commercial (drone) use for the several years
it will take the FAA to develop more comprehensive regulations,"
Arcangeli said.

Rockefeller and Republican Sen. Dean Heller of
Nevada, one of the six testing locations, asked why the FAA is 20 years
behind other countries in developing drone regulations.

"Why are we not at the forefront of the world?" Heller asked.

Huerta
said U.S. airspace is much more complicated than Japan's because of
many more general-aviation planes. Drone technology has grown quickly
and unpredictably, he said.

"Even today, we don't have a complete understanding of where this might go in the future," Huerta said.

 


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