Industry group urges Congress to support expanded drone use

File photo - This image provided by Aerial MOB, LLC, shows their eight rotor Sky Jib Helicopter in San Diego, Calif., in Aug. 2013.

File photo - This image provided by Aerial MOB, LLC, shows their eight rotor Sky Jib Helicopter in San Diego, Calif., in Aug. 2013.  (AP Photo/Aerial MOB, LLC, Tony Carmean)

A key drone industry group called on Congress to support expanded use of the controversial technology during testimony to the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee Wednesday.

The Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International (AUVSI) noted that the Federal Aviation Administration is working on finalizing rules for commercial and public drone use and is also granting permission for limited commercial use on a case-by-case basis. “But more can and should be done,” said AUVSI President Brian Wynne, in prepared testimony.

Wynne said that the upcoming FAA reauthorization bill should focus on two key areas – accelerating the safe commercial use of drones, also known as Unmanned Aerial Systems (UAS),  and expanding research efforts. The FAA’s current authorization bill expires Sept. 30, 2015.

The FAA proposed rules in February that would severely restrict the use of commercial drones. The proposed rules would require operators to keep commercial drones within eyesight at all times, which significantly limits the distance they can fly.

Last month the FAA also unveiled its Pathfinder program, which will study how drones are used for newsgathering, as well as in the agriculture and transport industries.

“We need to permit expanded uses that pose no additional risk to the airspace system,” said Wynne, in his testimony. “Whether within the context of the rule, through the reauthorization or by other means, we need to allow for beyond-visual-line-of-sight, nighttime operations and operations over congested areas. Otherwise we risk stunting a still-nascent industry.”

AUVSI represents more than 7,500 members, including over 600 corporate members.

In his testimony, Wynne noted that drone technology is advancing rapidly thanks to collaboration between industry and government, but called for a flexible regulatory environment that can accommodate innovation. Regulations, he added, should focus on specific drone operations, as opposed to different drone technologies.

“For the FAA to continue to keep up with the advancement of UAS technology, it needs to develop a risk-based, technology-neutral framework,” he said.

The FAA’s progress around commercial drones has been a source of frustration for many companies, with Amazon a high-profile critic of the pace of regulatory efforts for commercial drones.

Amazon told Congress Wednesday it is developing the technology to use drones to deliver packages in 30 minutes or less, a broad expansion of unmanned flight that is raising concerns about safety, security and privacy. 

Using commercial drones to quickly deliver packages is probably years away. But when government regulations catch up with emerging technologies, it could revolutionize the way people shop for items they need quickly, said Paul E. Misener, vice president of global public policy for 

Last year an audit report warned that the FAA was “significantly behind schedule” in its attempt to meet Congress’ September 2015 deadline for integrating commercial drones into U.S. airspace. The report by the Department of Transportation’s Inspector General warned that the FAA will miss the deadline, citing unresolved technological, regulatory, and privacy issues.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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