Xponential Keynote FAA Administrator Drone Regs

At AUVSI’s Xponential Conference in Denver today: the keynote address from Acting FAA Administrator Billy Nolen on what the next year holds for drone industry regulations.

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Acting FAA Administrator Billy Nolen announced last month that he would be leaving the position this summer. President Biden’s first nominee to the position, Phil Washington, has withdrawn from the process: a new nominee has not yet been named. The vacancy comes as the agency also waits for another funding package to move through Congress (FAA Reauthorization) which will both grant the agency continued funding and outline a series of priorities.

For the drone industry, the stakes are high. Former FAA Administrator Steve Dickson announced the formation of the BVLOS ARC and indicated a ruling on flight Beyond Visual Line of Sight by the end of the year in 2021. While the BVLOS Advisory Committee’s recommendations were published in March of 2022, no draft rule has since been released The rule on Remote ID, published in 2021, hits a major milestone of implementation in this case: but other components of unmanned traffic management (UTM) are still in development.

What’s Next for Drone Regulation? No Date for BVLOS

Flight Beyond Visual Line of Sight (BVLOS) has been a sticking point for advancing the drone industry for several years now. Unfortunately, Acting Administrator Nolen had little good news on that point.

“With drones, we’ve made good progress over the last couple of years, but we need to enable routine operations beyond visual line of sight,” he said. “Our pace is dictated by our need to prioritize safety. We won’t compromise on safety…”

Instead of indicating a date for the release of a draft rulemaking – which will, of necessity, be followed by a lengthy period of comment and review before being finalized – the Administrator focused on the waiver process. Nolen said that the agency will continue to grant waivers for more, and more complex, BVLOS operations. The data they receive from those operations will help to inform the final rulemaking.

“I would like to have seen us move faster on BVLOS. I’ll raise my hand and take full ownership of that,” said Nolen. “But we have a high level of commitment in the organization to get this done.”

The Path Forward for Air Taxis and Advanced Air Mobility

The focus of Nolen’s presentation was on Advanced Air Mobility (AAM) where the agency has made recent progress. In the expectation of demand for the Los Angeles Olympics in 2028, the FAA issued an AAM blueprint, indicating the short-term, mid-term, and long-term strategies for integration of AAM into the NAS. Later this month, said Nolen, the FAA will release an AAM implementation plan. “These documents are a hard look at what it will take to take a drone taxi safely,” said Nolen.

The FAA has also issued a certification basis for AAM solution providers Archer and Joby, and expects to issue their first certification in Q3 of 2024. The agency is also developing pilot qualification and training standards. In the near term phases, Nolen explained, AAM will work much like existing manned aircraft, utilizing existing infrastructure like helipads and working towards establishing air corridors.

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Miriam McNabb is the Editor-in-Chief of DRONELIFE and CEO of JobForDrones, a professional drone services marketplace, and a fascinated observer of the emerging drone industry and the regulatory environment for drones. Miriam has penned over 3,000 articles focused on the commercial drone space and is an international speaker and recognized figure in the industry. Miriam has a degree from the University of Chicago and over 20 years of experience in high tech sales and marketing for new technologies.
For drone industry consulting or writing, Email Miriam.

TWITTER: @spaldingbarker

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