FAA airspace preemption is the key to safe integration of unmanned aerial systems (UAS) into the National Airspace System (NAS). That was the message Helicopter Association International president Matt Zuccaro delivered to the Senate subcommittee on aviation operations, safety, and security on Tuesday. “We do not need to reinvent the wheel,” he said. “FAA airspace preemption ensures that all operators know the rules of the road—because there is one regulatory authority that oversees all of U.S. aviation.”
Zuccaro said the flood of state and local UAS laws are a threat to safety. “Introducing multiple variables of potential operational behavior just because you have crossed imaginary political boundaries adds risk to the operator and the public. At worst, these multiple variables may produce conflicting procedures or incentives, leading to a significant breach of safety.”
He used the example of a powerline inspection that ran through multiple jurisdictions as an example of such a scenario. Zuccaro also took issue with the Section 336 recreational drone exemption contained within the FAA Modernization and Reform Act of 2012, noting that the number of hobbyist drones is expected to grow to 2.4 million within the next five years, and urging Congress to curtail the 336 exemption and give the FAA “full and singular regulatory authority over all unmanned operations.”
The HAI president was also critical of proposals that would ban UAS from certain classifications of airspace. “Segregation of the airspace with associated restrictions and prohibitions being placed discriminatorily on certain aircraft categories runs counter to our safety priorities and is an initiative HAI and its members do not support,” he said. On other topics, Zuccaro said UAS beyond visual line of sight (BVLOS) operations would be safe only once “effective and certified” see, sense, and avoid technology is fielded. He also said developing a safe national UAS system should include a sensible identification and tracking policy, as well as aviation training and certification requirements.