WASHINGTON, D.C.—Challenges surrounding the integration of emerging unmanned technologies into the National Airspace System led one Mississippi State University administrator to Capitol Hill today [May 8].
Dallas Brooks, director of the university’s Raspet Flight Research Laboratory, joined an elite group of national experts and officials who testified before the U.S. Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation at a hearing titled “New Entrants in the National Airspace: Policy, Technology and Security Issues for Congress.” The focus was the current state of the NAS, status of integration efforts by the Federal Aviation Administration for these new entrants into the NAS, and questions that remain.
Convened by U.S. Senator Roger Wicker, R-Miss., chairman of the Senate Commerce Committee, the morning hearing held a recurring theme as each panelist discussed current successes, but also their suggestions for future enhancements as regulators make decisions about the safety of the nation’s airspace.
“To understand and mitigate safety risks and to improve the performance of systems and operators it is important to fund research and development,” Wicker said. “In partnership with the Federal Aviation Administration, our research universities are helping to improve air traffic control interoperability, safety, pilot training, and drone traffic management systems.”
Brooks, who also serves as associate director for ASSURE, the Federal Aviation Administration’s Center of Excellence for UAS Research headquartered at Mississippi State, testified alongside five witnesses with broad experience in government regulation, research and commercial aviation.
Addressing the senate committee, Brooks testified that it is these members’ leadership that can make a difference in the speed in which research is conducted to gather innovative data to continue UAS safety improvements and integration into the atmosphere.
Wicker thanked Brooks for his praise of congressional mandates that have moved progress forward, but then asked him to explain “where research delays exist” in expanding opportunities for drone usage and in improving performance of systems and operations.
Brooks pointed to a recent FAA policy change that now mandates department-level review, making the timeframe six times longer for approval of UAS Center of Excellence research.
“Such reviews add no discernable value, add complexity to the grant process, and slow the timeframe of approval from a few weeks to many months,” Brooks explained.
Stating that “focus breeds success,” Brooks said that by following the model of the UAS Center of Excellence and the UAS Science and Research Panel “our nation’s government can achieve more in less time—and more safely—than ever before.”
U.S. Senator and MSU alumnus Marsha Blackburn, R-Tenn., a committee member, praised Brooks and the work of the UAS Center of Excellence.
“Thank you for working to protect our coasts, our borders and our military,” she said.
Others testifying along with Brooks were Jay Merkle, executive director, UAS Integration Office, FAA; Wayne Monteith, associate administrator, Office of Commercial Space Transportation, FAA; Zach Lovering, vice president, Urban Air Mobility Systems, Airbus; and Eric Stallmer, president Commercial Spaceflight Federation.
The hearing is archived and available online at https://bit.ly/2H8X1Cg.