WASHINGTON, Sept. 28, 2016 - The Federal Aviation Administration on Tuesday received some measured praise from stakeholders for what they said were much improved regulations for using unmanned aircraft systems (UAS), or drones.

The new regulations, formally dubbed Part 107 by the FAA, went into effect in late August. Part 107 replaced Section 333, and witnesses at a hearing of the House Subcommittee on Investigations, Oversight, and Regulations said the new rulebook will be better allow for the use of UAS’ in a wide array of businesses.

“From the moment it went into effect, Part 107 was a huge improvement over the Section 333 process,” Gabriel Dobbs, the vice president of business development and policy with Kespry, a drone-related small business, said at the hearing.

Brian Wynne, the president and CEO of the Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International, said his organization estimates that expansion of UAS use and technology would create upwards of 100,000 jobs and generate over $82 billion in economic activity in the first decade after drones are integrated into the wide variety of industries pegged to use the tools.

“After witnessing the growth of the industry over the last few years and now with the small UAS rule in effect, I am confident those numbers will go even higher,” Wynne said at the hearing.

While Part 107 has been generally well received in its first month of existence, the panel agreed that the jury was still out on a key factor: waivers.

Section 333 contained a widely criticized waiver process that hearing witnesses said was required far too often and took too long. For instance, Section 333 required many location-specific exemptions that Part 107 does not, leading to delays in the approval process. Since Part 107 allows for more widespread operations, the waivers aren’t as necessary, but they’ll still be needed, especially in agriculture.

One of the provisions in Part 107 requires for operation to be conducted within the line of sight of the pilot, something that would make tasks like crop scouting a large corn field challenging. Nighttime operation and a 400-foot altitude cap on flights might also prove to be hindrances even beyond agriculture, so the ability to receive waivers from some of those provisions will be critical to the perception of Part 107, the panelists said.

Wynne said agriculture and rural areas could be well positioned to seek waivers that could ultimately lead to greater UAS adoption.

“If anything, we should probably focus on getting waivers for those kinds of applications in rural areas,” he told Agri-Pulse after the hearing. He said agricultural applications usually take place in more sparsely populated areas, taking away some of the potential risk in operation. He said if the FAA were to get more data on operations safely taking place under waiver authorities, they might be more comfortable engaging in a rulemaking to get the waived article formally on the books.


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