428A Russell Senate Office Building, Washington, DC 10:00am EST
Chairman David Vitter
Good morning and thank you for joining me today for the Senate Small Business and Entrepreneurship Committee Hearing to examine the commercial applications of Unmanned Aircraft Systems or UAS by small businesses. We are going to be hearing from one panel of industry experts and one panel of small businesses. I want to thank all of our witnesses for being here today.
The purpose of this hearing is to highlight the need to integrate UAS into the national airspace in a way that ensures safety as the top priority. I have raised significant concerns about the safe operation of this technology, and it is crucial that the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) develops regulations to promote a culture of safety and compliance for the growing number of UAS users.
While the FAA has certainly taken an extended period of time to develop these regulations, it is important that we do not sacrifice the safety of our national airspace in favor of poorly developed regulations that fail to promote the proper usage of UAS.
However, the FAA’s failure to meet regulatory deadlines has limited the growth of the commercial “drone” industry. I’m hopeful that today’s conversation will bring us closer to finding the balance between the safe integration of drones in the national airspace without stifling small business innovation and utilization.
The potential of UAS’ economic contribution cannot be ignored, and it is not at all surprising that our nation’s entrepreneurs have made quick work of learning to benefit from this technology.
In recent years, UAS have developed into useful and major tools for many small businesses. They are used in numerous applications across many industries including: agriculture, real estate, construction, film and TV, and telecommunications, just to name a few.
The Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International (AUVSI) recently issued a report, which concluded that precision agriculture is one of the most promising commercial markets for UAS. Their report estimated that once FAA regulations are finalized, the UAS industry expects to produce over 100,000 total U.S. jobs and $82 billion in economic impact within a decade.
In the meantime, drones are prohibited for commercial purposes, and the FAA has granted exemptions on a case-by-case basis. Case-by-case analysis is certainly not the most efficient way to engage a growing industry, and the FAA needs to update its exemption process so that small businesses are taken care of in a timely fashion without compromising community and airspace safety. The current process is simply unacceptable and leaves too many small businesses out to dry.
The silver lining lies within the simmering growth of the industry. In 2014 alone, the companies that were granted exemptions are estimated to have contributed nearly $500 billion in revenue and represented over 600,000 jobs, and of the first 1,000 commercial UAS exemptions, small businesses made up nearly 95% of them.
I know that our entrepreneurs and small business owners want to follow the rules and use UAS for low-risk activities. But under the current circumstances, they face unnecessary barriers that prevent growth. The last thing our economy needs is unnecessary obstructions to small business growth, which is responsible for a huge part of sustaining jobs for hard-working Americans.
In light of these realities, I have authored the Micro Drone Safety and Innovation Act. This bill would establish a micro classification for UAS that weigh 4.4 lbs. or less in order to prioritize safety while promoting open innovation.
The bill calls for strict safety requirements that fall in line with proposed regulations from the FAA. It is my belief that we can help maintain our country’s competitive advantage while encouraging a culture of safety and compliance for UAS users.
Now, let’s get today’s conversation started. I am extremely interested to hear from our witnesses about their experience with the FAA’s current process and what they expect when proposed regulations are finalized.
I also hope our expert panelists will inform us of the impact UAS integration will have on our economy– how it has made a difference in their work, and ways we can emphasize safety in our country’s airspace.
Again, I’d like to thank everyone for being here today and look forward to our discussion.