The FAA, behind schedule in finalizing regulations for commercial use of unmanned aerial systems, will be ready by June 17, 2016, according to congressional testimony Wednesday by the agency’s deputy administrator. Michael Whitaker told a House aviation subcommittee, when pressed for specifics, that June of next year would be a realistic time frame for the FAA to complete its review of the proposed rules and the 4,500 public comments submitted since February. “We should be able to beat that,” he said. The agency’s rulemaking deadline for drones under 55 pounds flying in the nation’s airspace was Sept. 30, prompting UAS organizations and other GA groups to send a letter to the FAA, urging the agency to move ahead.
Also during the subcommittee hearing, Whitaker said the FAA is working with industry to examine safety concerns and wants to continue testing technology such as geo-fencing and tracking, particularly when drones fly near airports. The growing number of drone sightings by pilots prompted discussions about safety concerns of collisions with aircraft. The FAA said in August the number of pilot reports exceeded 650 this year, up from 238 reported for 2014. Whitaker testified the FAA is now receiving about 100 reports per month. Education, paired with enforcement and penalties, will continue to be part of the FAA’s management of drone operations, he said, citing this week’s $1.9 million penalty imposed onSkyPan of Chicagofor illegal commercial drone flights.As far as non-commercial use of drones – with up to a million predicted to be purchased this year for recreation – Whitaker said the FAA is working with manufacturers on voluntary package labeling to warn users about safety and airspace.