FAA Administrator Michael Huerta and Sally French, “The Drone Girl,” today led a lively panel discussion about the future of small unmanned aircraft at South by Southwest (SXSW) in Austin on Monday. The panel included a diverse group of innovative thinkers from industry and government.
In his opening remarks, Administrator Huerta outlined recent progress on several important initiatives, including a robust unmanned aircraft system (UAS) registration system that is expected to pass 400,000 registrants this week, the MicroUAS aviation rulemaking committee that will deliver recommendations to the FAA by April 1, and the FAA’s B4UFLY app for iOS and Android devices. He noted partnerships among the FAA, industry and other government agencies are key to safely and expeditiously integrating unmanned aircraft into our skies.
“The wide array of industry representatives here today underscores that while we may sometimes have different opinions and ideas, we’re all coming from essentially the same place: We all view safety as our top priority, and the safe integration of unmanned aircraft is a goal that we’re committed to pursuing together,” Huerta said.
The panel discussion included representatives from NASA, Amazon Prime Air, Intel, PrecisionHawk, Aerobo and Fresh Air Educators. Topics included steps to speed integration while maintaining today’s high levels of safety, future uses for UAS, research on how to safely expand UAS operations, and ways to spread the FAA’s safety message to even more UAS pilots. One message that came through from the participants was that partnerships between government and industry are essential to educating the public on how to fly carefully and to safely integrating unmanned aircraft into the nation’s airspace.
Helping people understand where they can and can’t fly their unmanned aircraft is critical and the FAA is counting on industry’s support. Many UAS users have no experience with the U.S. aviation system, so they may not be aware they’re operating in shared, and potentially busy airspace.
Huerta announced the Android version of the FAA’s B4UFLY app is now publicly available. The app tells pilots whether it’s safe to fly in their current or planned locations. The Android version includes updates to its beta version based on feedback from drone operators who tested the app. Huerta also committed to making the app’s programming and logic available to the general public.
The FAA is committed to the safe integration of unmanned aircraft into the national airspace system. The FAA’s website has important information for drone owners on registration, flying guidance for hobby or recreation use, commercial operations, public/government operations, law enforcement guidance, educational campaigns, and more. The FAA plans to publish a rule for small unmanned aircraft this spring. The agency has authorized more than 4,000 exemptions for commercial operations, and works with our research partners through the UAS Center of Excellence, six test sites, and the Pathfinder program.
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