Speech – Policy Leading to Trusted Integration

Administrator Stephen Dickson
Atlanta, GA

Thank you, Brian (Wynne), for that introduction. I can honestly say its a pleasure to join you here, in person, in my home town of Atlanta. I think its fairly well known that Atlanta is also home to a hotbed of activity in the drone aerial photography and cinematography world.

In fact, one of my sons runs a drone photography business here. While I didnt teach him to flysince Im not yet a drone pilot myselfI do know he will think of me often….since my name is on his Part 107 certificate.

But I was thinking about Atlanta and drones recently as I watched the 2020 Summer Olympic Games in Tokyo. The last time the U.S. hosted the summer Olympics was here, in 1996.

Now I dont know about you, but Im partial to the opening ceremonies for these eventsI find them to be very uplifting.

In the 1996 opening ceremonies, we had a fantastic rendition of Georgia on My Mind from Gladys Knight, but there were no drones. In fact, the word drone at that time was still associated with male honeybees.

Just 15 years later, dronesof the UAS specieshave become synonymous with Olympic opening ceremonies.

In Tokyo, Intel Drone Light Shows stole the show when they flew more than eighteen hundred Shooting Star 3, LED-equipped drones in mesmerizing formations high over the stadium at night, at one point forming a 3D model of a rotating earth. It was breathtaking.

In 2018, the Intel folks flew twelve-hundred drones in formation for Winter Olympics in PyeongChang.

Who can imagine whats next for Beijing in 2022 or Paris in 2024? The only thing thats for sure is that drones will be involved, and the show will get more and more amazing.

These are great examples of how fast this industry moves, and how hard it is for someone like me to watch the events and wonder how to balance all of this innovation with the safety afforded by smart and fair regulation.

After all, thats the FAAs job.

The public fully expects all aspects of aviation to be as safe as commercial airlines have become. Businesses and operators who dont understand that are probably not going to be in business for long.

So how do we, the FAA, fairly and equitably integrate all of this cool technology into our National Airspace System and do it in a safe and predictable way?

This is where I take off my Braves cap, put on my FAA hard hat, and we roll up our sleeves to have a talk about Policy Leading to Trusted Integration, which as you know, is the title of my keynote.

Lets start with policy.

Picture thisan aircraft in flight with the four forces acting on itlift pushing up, gravity pulling down, thrust propelling forward, and drag tugging rearward. Theres an old joke that the rearward force is actually the FAA….holding everyone back with our draconian policies and regulations.

Now, I come from the commercial side, and I have to admit, I had my own opinions about the FAA in relation to drag back then. On this side of the fence, you see things differently.

As FAA Administrator, I see policy and the accompanying regulations as a protective sphere or envelope around the aircraft. The envelope gives the operator a comfort zone within which he or she can be assured of a safe operation before reaching any edge, where safetyyours and the publicsmight not be assured.

For drone integration, weve done our best to allow for as much development and operational work as possible within the existing regulatory framework. But obviously weve had to make changes occasionally to make sure the protective envelope is as robust as it needs to be.

Were actually at the point right now where were bumping up against that envelope, so there are some very important and groundbreaking performance-based rules on the horizon, especially in relation to Beyond Visual Line of Sight operationsBVLOS for shortand drone certification.

Before we talk about that, lets first take a look in the policy rear view mirror.

Policy affecting what we now refer to as drones started 40 years ago, when we issued Advisory Circular 91-57, outlining certain operating standards for model aircraft and encouraging voluntary compliance with safety standards.

All was quiet until 2012, when the small drone industry discovered a huge untapped market potential. Suddenly, there was a need to make sure we had a protective envelope around an entirely new kind of aircraft.

Congress required the FAA to create a way to authorize these so-called non-hobby drone operations, and set out methods to obtain waivers or exemptions for operations. The law also created the small UAS classification for drones weighing less than 55 pounds.

We followed up in 2015 with registration and marking rules and guidance for small drones. The idea was to link an operator to an aircraft.

In 2016, we published Part 107known as the Small UAS Rulewhich created the Remote Pilot Certificate that now has my signature on it. Part 107 rule also set operational standards for commercial small drone flights.

Two years later, in 2018, Congress required that we synchronize requirements for recreational flyers to be more in line with Part 107s commercial operations, and that we roll out safety tests for recreational pilots. That ultimately led to The Recreational UAS Safety Test, or TRUST, that Ill talk about later.

Finally, in January of this year, we expanded the protective envelope with two more rules. First, we published a rule that modified Part 107 to allow routine operations over people and routine operations at night under certain circumstances. Second, we published the remote identification rule, which has compliance dates of September 2022 for manufacturers, and September 2023 for remote pilots.

Regarding night operations, I want to emphasize that Part 107 pilots must complete the new online training course and equip with the proper anti-collision lighting.

Working with the industry, weve also done a great deal to make the public comfortable with the technology, particularly over the past year or so when drones displayed their unique value.

The package delivery companies, in particular, were innovative and flexible, modifying their services to deliver medications, supplies, food, personal protective equipment, vaccines, and even schoolbooks. For a brief period, news stories about drones were all positive!

With that backdrop, weve now built a solid foundation for some amazing things to come.

Well be working on rules for BVLOS, often referred to as the holy grail of drone ops. This is a necessary evolution if this industry is to continue to grow.

We get that, and all of us know that our rules, as written, are not adequate.

For one thing, approving operations on a case-by-case basis is not a feasible or efficient way forward. So well have to have new rules, and were working closely with everyone here to do it right.

We will also evolve the way we certify certain drones through the MOSAIC rule, which stands for Modernization of Special Airworthiness Certificates.

Yes, we have to have an acronym for everything! In a nutshell, MOSAIC will enable more drone operations by appropriately scaling our aircraft certification requirements with the risk of the operation.

We wont be developing these rules in a vacuum; we need everyone at the table. Ill say a bit more about how were doing that for BVLOS in a moment.

But first, lets talk about the second part of my speech titleTrusted Integration.

What is trusted integration? To me that means, wethe FAA, the industry and academia, and the user communityhave confidence that were all on the same page and moving in the same direction to get drones safely and efficiently integrated into the National Airspace System. We trust you. You trust us.

For the FAAs part, were building trust by doing our best to achieve consensus when we make rules, and were making it as easy as possible for operators to follow the rules once theyre implemented.

Ill give two examples for how were making it easier to follow the rulesTRUST and LAANC

First, TRUST. In my timeline earlier, I noted that Congress in 2018 required that we roll out a safety test for recreational pilots. In response, we created TRUST, which stands for The Recreational UAS Safety Test. TRUST is online; its easy to use; its free, and the reviews have been positive.

Second, LAANCthe Low Altitude Authorization and Notification Capability. In plain terms, this was the file and fly capability you asked for and we delivered on. Right now, its available at more than 500 air traffic facilities and more than 700 airports. Weve approved more than 775,000 airspace authorizations to date.

LAANC was a big step forward in terms of automating systems to support a large volume of UAS operations, with near real-time authorizations within UAS facility map locations. LAANC continues to be an agile solution that adjusts to support new UAS policies and regulations such as changes to Part 107 for Night Operations.

We have also been able to expand airspace access, with the incorporation of more granular UAS facility maps known as Quad Grids. LAANC has become a pathfinder for how we are envisioning we will operate the drone air traffic management in the future.

So now lets talk about how we can gain your trust when making new rules.

This is a tough one. I say that because getting us all on the same page when we make new rules is not easyanyone looking at the number of comments we received in the remote ID rulemaking knows this…..There were 53,000, and we read every one.

But thats a good thing. This is a diverse industry, and there are multitudes of competing interests for businessand for the FAAs attention.

At the end of the day, not everyone will get exactly what they want, but we try to find solutions that, hopefully, everyone will agree are best for the industry as a whole.

Thats why we started preparing for the BVLOS rule by launching an Aviation Rulemaking Committee, or ARC.

The ARC charter was approved on June 8th, and I publicly announced it in my talk at our UAS Symposium the next day. Within an hour of that announcement, we sent out e-invitations to potential ARC members, and the group started its work immediately.

You can be sure the debates will be intense, but when we receive the ARCs final recommendations at the end of the process later this year, we will know for sure that everyone had a say.

Ideally, well also have everyones trustand maybe even consensusas we move forward with BVLOS as a new phase of airspace integration.

And in the end, thats what its all aboutgovernment and the UAS communitycoming together to provide solutions that enable this fast-moving sector to continue delivering groundbreaking solutions for the public, and doing so safely.

Policy provides the path to get there, and trusted integration makes everyone a part of the solution.

Like that massive formation of Shooting Star drones over the Olympic Stadium in Tokyo, if we work together and in harmony, well create works of art that people will remember, and that move this industry forward.

Thank you for listening, and have a great Xponential!

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