U.S.-based companies that want to put drones to work have faced some serious policy challenges. So far, the FAA has granted 333 exemptions to 3,186 companies that want to fly commercially. But many more companies are still waiting for their exemptions or for the FAA to implement rules specific to commercial drones.

Meanwhile, policymakers are forging ahead to support the safe integration of drones into the National Airspace System. On Tuesday, Representative Earl Blumenauer (OR-03—Skyward’s home district) introduced the Commercial UAS Modernization Act.

Representative Blumenauer’s act would create an interim set of rules to allow commercial drones to safely integrate with the National Airspace System while the FAA works to solidify Part 107, the airspace rules that will apply specifically to UAVs.

Skyward CEO Jonathan Evans and CTO X, both professional helicopter pilots, consulted with Representative Blumenauer as he worked to write a policy that prioritizes safe airspace but still allows for innovation.

Senator Cory Booker (D-NJ) introduced similar legislation last year.

Representative Earl Blumenauer
Representative Earl Blumenauer

“The UAS industry is booming in Oregon and nationwide, but our laws and regulations are stifling innovation instead of encouraging it, forcing American companies to look overseas to test new technology,” said Representative Blumenauer in a statement on his website. “We must not miss the opportunity to harness the benefits and utility of UAS technology, which will bring advances in safety and efficiency in nearly every sector of the economy.”

“I am excited to have a partner so dedicated to ensuring the United States can reap the social and economic benefits of UAS technology – from delivering food aid abroad to helping with search and rescue at home, the possibilities of this technology are just beginning to be explored and I look forward to working with colleagues on both sides of the aisle as we move these proposals forward,” said Senator Booker.

The Commercial UAS Modernization Act would:

  • Create an interim rule that provides basic guidelines for commercial use and testing of small UAS and micro UAS during the period the FAA finalizes rules covering commercial UAS;
  • Strengthen the FAA’s oversight authorities by creating a deputy administrator exclusively responsible for the safe integration of UAS in U.S. airspace, while also streamlining regulations that currently slow industry’s ability to innovate new aircraft technologies;
  • Direct the FAA to explore the feasibility of transporting packages and other property by small UAS; and
  • Ensure that FAA test sites are being used to the maximum extent to facilitate research into new technologies, including developing an air traffic management system for UAS, in partnership with industry and other relevant government agencies, such as the National Aeronautics and Space Administration.

Experts estimate that in the next decade, the commercial drone industry will create more than 100,000 U.S. jobs, with $82 billion in economic impact.

“Full integration of UAS into the national airspace could revolutionize the way entire sectors of our economy and governments function,” said Representative Blumenauer.

The Commercial UAS Modernization Act is a great first step.

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