News Ticker

Senators introduce bill to speed use of commercial drones

Senator Cory Booker (D-N.J.)

Commercial drones would get their wings under a new bill introduced Tuesday by Sens. Cory Booker (D-N.J.) and John Hoeven (R-N.D.).

The Commercial UAS Modernization Act would set interim guidelines for the testing and use of commercial drones while the Federal Aviation Administration finalizes its rules. In addition, the bill would give the FAA more oversight authority by creating a deputy administrator exclusively responsible for the safe integration of drones in U.S. airspace.

Drones are taking off around the world, but the Senators fear the U.S. may be left behind unless something isn’t done. The FAA has taken some steps to address the use of drone by loosening some of its procedures for applying for permits. But it could take several years before the agency finalizes rules governing commercial drone use.

“There is so much potential that can be unlocked if we lay the proper framework to support innovation in unmanned aircraft systems,” Sen. Booker said. “We cannot allow other countries to outpace us at what we do best. This legislation is essential to ensuring our legacy as a country that leads the globe in technological innovation,” Booker added.

The bill has strong support from the National Association of Broadcasters, which view drones as a big asset in news gathering. At last month’s NAB convention in Las Vegas, drones were a hot topic.

“When there are disasters—floods, damage after tornadoes, or snow events—drones can provide a perspective you might not be able to see any other way,” Barbara Maushard, vice president of news for Hearst Television Inc., said during an NAB session on emergency journalism. “We could rescue people with the help of drones, just as we’ve used our helicopters to help first responders. Drones would be a valuable tool for news.”

The Federal Aviation Administration last Wednesday announced a partnership with CNN to explore how unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) might be safely used for news gathering in populated areas and  to work on expanding drone use beyond the visual line of sight.

“Even as we pursue our current rule making effort for small unmanned aircraft, we must continue to actively look for future ways to expand non-recreational UAS uses,” FAA administer Michael Huerta said in a statement. “This new initiative …will help us anticipate and address the needs of the evolving UAS industry.”

The comment period for the FAA’s proposed new rules for commercial drone use closed on April 24.  Over 4,500 companies and individuals filed comments with the FAA including a coalition of news organizations that took issue with certain restrictions in the proposed rules.  By statute the agency has sixteen months from the close of comments to issue a final rule.