June 22, 2017

Cortez Masto Introduces Bipartisan Bill To Advance Development of Unmanned Aircraft Systems

Washington, D.C. – U.S. Senators Catherine Cortez Masto (D-Nev.), Mark Warner (D-Va.), Dean Heller (R-Nev.) and John Hoeven (R-N.D.) today introduced bipartisan legislation designed to advance the development of unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) and build on the Federal Aviation Administration’s (FAA) efforts to safely integrate them into the National Airspace System. The Safe Drone Act of 2017 will ensure that the United States keeps pace in the development and implementation of unmanned technology. 

“For years, the state of Nevada has been leading in drone innovation, presenting our state with opportunities to seek new ways to innovate and grow our economy,” said Senator Cortez Masto. “The Safe Drone Act will allow us to harness the economic benefits of unmanned aircraft systems, and its potential to improve our way of life. By training a skilled workforce, enhancing the safety and security of drones, and providing essential funding for research development, Nevada can diversify its economy and continue to be at the forefront of this revolutionary technology, in a safe and secure manner.”

“Establishing the workforce that will support and grow the ever-changing drone industry is paramount to its success, and through this legislation, the role that the community and technical colleges play in this important effort is recognized,” said Tom Wilczek, Aerospace and Defense Industry Specialist for the Nevada Governor’s Office of Economic Development. “Further, we appreciate that this bill also thinks about the future of unmanned aerial aviation, particularly, pushing the development of technologies that are needed to implement beyond-visual-line-of-sight.  Simply put, GOED supports this legislation because of the promise it holds for developing the workforce and technologies of the emerging drone industry’s future.”

“The testing of unmanned aircraft systems in Reno has provided us critical insight to understand the technology, safety and innovative uses of drones, as well as its possible economic benefits,” said Marily Mora, President and CEO of the Reno-Tahoe Airport Authority. “This bill will provide much needed funding to expand the state’s UAS operations and boost efforts to train an advanced drone workforce. I thank the senator for prioritizing this endeavor and working to improve UAS safety as we continue the research and development of drone technology.” 

“This legislation includes several key provisions to further the nation’s global lead in commercial unmanned aircraft systems,” said Brian Wynne, President & CEO of the Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International. “These initiatives will help expand the training, research, and public policy needed to support the thousands of jobs the industry is forecast to create, and integrate the thousands of UAS that are anticipated to be flying in our nation’s airspace during the next several years. We appreciate the senators’ efforts to enable the expansion of commercial UAS so that businesses and individuals across the country can realize its full potential.”

Last year, a federal court struck down additional requirements instituted by FAA that set in place a streamlined and user-friendly web-based aircraft registration process for owners of recreational unmanned aircraft. The courts found that FAA lacked the authority to regulate this technology. This legislation provides Congressional authority for FAA to continue the registration and marking of small UAS and promote their safe and responsible use.

Among its provisions, the Safe DRONE Act includes language to help build a trained and professional workforce in the UAS industry, advances work on the development of a low-altitude safe and secure traffic management system, and directs robust collaboration to address critical needs such as a comprehensive security policy and a long-term plan for spectrum and communications infrastructure needs.

A 2015 report by the Teal Group, an aerospace and defense market analysis firm, estimated that UAS production accounts for more than $4 billion of total economic activity annually and is expected to grow to $14 billion annually by 2025, totaling $93 billion.

The Safe DRONE Act of 2017:

  • Develops a Trained UAS Workforce.  Directs the Secretary of Transportation to designate a consortium of Community and Technical Colleges aimed at expanding the capacity of those colleges to train students for career opportunities in the UAS industry, including maintenance and repair, flight operations related to specific applications and data analysis.

  • Coordinates Federal UAS Spectrum Policy. Establishes an inter-agency working group, with a broad array of stakeholders, tasked with developing a cohesive federal policy to address the near-term and long-term communications and spectrum needs to facilitate safe integration of UAS into the national airspace system.

  • Advances Unmanned Traffic Management. Directs the Secretary of Transportation, in coordination with NASA, to develop an implementation plan within one year to achieve full operational capability of UAS traffic management.

  • Enhances UAS Safety and Security. Establishes an inter-agency working group involving relevant federal security agencies to develop recommendations for enhanced safety and security of expanded small UAS operations beyond visual line of sight and over people, and requires the FAA release rules within one year of enactment.

  • Provides UAS Registration Authority. Gives Congressional authorization for FAA to continue registration and marking requirement for small UAS to promote safe and responsible use, but provides certain exemptions for the model aircraft community. 
  • Extends Research Opportunities at UAS Test Sites. Extends Congressional authorization of FAA-designated UAS test sites through FY 2024, and allocates $14 million in federal funding for research and development through the test sites.

  • Supports Emergency Operations Guidelines.  Emphasizes Congressional support for clearly defined FAA rules allowing for civil and public operators to utilize UAS in assisting emergency response operations, such as firefighting, search and rescue and post-disaster infrastructure restoration efforts.
  • Continued Development of UAS Industry. Exempts rules primarily related to UAS operations from the President’s “one-in, two-out” Executive Order to allow for continued development of the UAS industry through establishing new federal rules for operations.