Drones are the next big thing for companies including Amazon, but government regulators are going to miss their 2015 deadline to clear nonmilitary drones for takeoff, officials told the House Transportation and Infrastructure Subcommittee on Aviation Wednesday.
Companies are considering using unmanned aircraft systems for package delivery, like Amazon, but profitable uses also include aerial photography for entertainment events, environmental monitoring, law enforcement and border surveillance.
An act passed by Congress in 2012 required the Federal Aviation Administration to complete rules to integrate nonmilitary drones into U.S. airspace by 2015. The FAA has only met seven of 17 steps to safely integrate unmanned aircraft systems into American skies, so commercial drone entrepreneurs will have to wait longer than Congress expected.
The FAA is struggling with a series of “technological, regulatory, and managerial barriers” on how to integrate drones into the national airspace, including how to ensure a drone does not collide with a jet and how to train drone pilots, according to hearing testimony from Calvin Scovel, inspector general for the Department of Transportation.
“It remains unclear when FAA will complete [unmanned aircraft systems] integration,” Scovel said.
Drones are more complicated to regulate than conventional aircraft since they vary in size and some can fly longer than airplanes, said FAA Administrator Michael Huerta. Government agencies are also developing privacy standards for the use of drones that comply with state and federal laws, which will be made available to the public, Huerta said.
“Every day we learn something new about unmanned aircraft including what the private sector wants to do,” Huerta said in his prepared remarks. “FAA estimates that we can expect 7,500 small unmanned aircraft in the [national airspace system] over the next five years, provided regulations and operational guidelines [and] policies are in place to handle them.”
Drone test sites planned for six locations will help agencies research drone safety technology and flight regulations through February 2017, with the first of those sites expected to open in the first half of 2014, Huerta said.