U.S. Sen. Roger Wicker, R-Miss., chairman of the Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation, will convene a hearing titled, “New Entrants in the National Airspace: Policy, Technology, and Security Issues for Congress,” at 9:30 a.m. on Wednesday, May 8, 2019. The hearing will examine the current state of our National Airspace System (NAS), the status of integration efforts by the Federal Aviation Administration for new entrants into the NAS, and the policy, technology, and security challenges that remain.
- Mr. Jay Merkle, Executive Director, Unmanned Aircraft Systems Integration Office, Federal Aviation Administration
- Mr. Wayne Montieth, Associate Administrator, Office of Commercial Space Transportation, Federal Aviation Administration
- Mr. Dallas Brooks, Director, Raspet Flight Research Laboratory, Mississippi State University
- Mr. Zach Lovering, Vice President, Urban Air Mobility Systems, Airbus
- Mr. Eric Stallmer, President, Commercial Spaceflight Federation
*Witness list subject to change
Wednesday, May 8, 2019
Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation
This hearing will take place in the Dirksen Senate Office Building G50. Witness testimony, opening statements, and a live video of the hearing will be available on www.commerce.senate.gov.
*Note: Location change 5/1/19
*Note: Time change 5/7/19
Chairman Roger Wicker
Last year’s FAA Reauthorization Act helped pave the way for the new rules recently proposed by the FAA to expand opportunities for drone use. The drone community is also eager for a rulemaking process regarding remote identification of drones or “Remote ID.” The Remote ID rulemaking will be an important milestone because many operational, privacy, and security concerns can be addressed by readily identifying each object in the sky and its operator, and we certainly hope so. Perhaps we will hear an update on the agency’s rulemaking at this hearing.
R&D (research and development) is essential to understanding and mitigating safety risks and to improve the performance of systems and operators. In partnership with the FAA, our research universities are helping to improve air traffic control interoperability, safety, pilot training, and drone traffic management systems. Managed by Mississippi State University, the ASSURE Center of Excellence is comprised of 23 universities tasked with much of this research agenda. I would note that those universities are represented by seven senators on this committee, can you imagine? So, we will hear about that today.
The commercial space launch sector is another growing industry that requires our attention. Once the domain of powerful nation-states, commercial space launch is fast becoming an affordable commercial service, that may soon include space tourism. Rockets must transit the airspace to and from space. General Montieth’s organization is responsible for licensing commercial launch and reentry operations. The companies represented by Mr. Stallmer’s organization are making sure that General Monteith stays busy. So, I hope witnesses will provide their perspectives on how the FAA can support this industry while maintaining a safe and efficient airspace system.
Finally, many companies are developing electrically powered aircraft that can quickly take a few passengers between fixed spots in a crowded city, and I want to be one of the people to avail myself of these “flying taxis” — a promising aspiration for many who wish to avoid today’s congested highways — and who doesn’t? However, many technical and policy questions remain for what is called “urban air mobility.”
The committee is interested in hearing from witnesses about some of the future possibilities associated with urban air mobility. The skies of the future are sure to look different from those of today. While there should be concerns with the safety, efficiency, and security of new technologies, we need to be prepared to enable innovation and change.
Ranking Member Maria Cantwell
Thank you, Mr. Chairman. Thank you for holding this important hearing and calling the witnesses this morning. And I know we have a busy schedule this morning so I’m just going to move right into it.
Today we’re going to hear about the integration of two important users to the national aerospace system: unmanned aerial vehicles, as you were just discussing, and the commercial space launch companies. Both are areas of great potential and come with unique challenges to be addressed by us, the stakeholders, and the FAA.
In 2017, the U.S. led the world in a number of space launches for the first time in almost 15 years. American ingenuity and competiveness put us back on top, and this committee has an opportunity to ensure that the bureaucratic red tape isn’t the reason we cede this leadership to space in the future. Commercial space launch in the United States has been a huge growth over the last decade, with new entrances of Blue Origin, Space X, and others coming online, as well as new, large satellite constellations. So we can expect that we are going to see a continuation of launch activities increasing ever year.
It has been remarkable to watch this growth explode in my state of Washington and to see it’s applications in other parts of the United States. Growing the commercial space industry has huge implications for both American security and our economy. And in fact, some estimate that the global industry for space to grow from about $360 billion today to over $1-3 trillion over the next 20 years. So huge economic opportunities and job creation efforts. It will be critical for regulators to make sure we continue to facilitate to space in order for this growing industry to flourish, while continuing to ensure that U.S. air travel remains safe around the world. So that issue we will look forward to hearing from our witnesses on how we integrate that in the very near term.
Also, the integration of unmanned aerial vehicles into our airspace requires a balancing act between the safety of our skies, which we can never compromise on, and the many important applications made possible by unmanned aerial vehicles. These applications include fighting wildfires, aiding first responders, infrastructure inspection, farming, fishing issues. I think for us in the Northwest we had a tragic train accident and just happened to happen by Joint Base Lewis-McChord. But the fact that we already had an integrated response team there and they used drone systems, even though the train derailed onto I-5, within 24 hours they were able to reopen and move traffic because the drone system gave everybody the confidence that they had the accident sight investigation correct. And so that application, in and of itself, giving people the ability to get all that accident and safety information, and then thereby clearing the scene, is such an important application. And really, truly, those at home who made that application work so cost effectively there.
So the use of drones can save money, they can improve our delivery of systems, and improve our quality of life. So many on this panel have heard from constituents who are working on innovative solutions to existing problems and want to develop new markets for unmanned aerial vehicles. And so the FAA has had to work to make these applications through a waiver process, the use of Part 107 for commercial use of small drones, and work with the FAA and unmanned aerial vehicle test sites.
So, while I know that applications can happen faster than our ability to integrate them, implementing them is a very important process of meeting these new challenges. Right now, for example, the entire industry is waiting for the FAA to issue a rule on remote identification standards. So these remote ID standards are a critical part to unlocking the next area of unmanned aerial vehicle activity. So we want to make sure that we are including this as part of our top priorities. These new UAS uses promote that a remote ID is able to maintain and help with the safety and identification. And to allow the unmanned traffic management system to work effectively.
I can assure you, as I have seen demonstrations of these unmanned aerial vehicles, I can just think of all the applications immediately that would be helpful. Whether that is delivering medicine, delivering critical supplies, or even in some of our challenging areas of the Pacific Northwest, where natural disasters are something we have to think about all the time, getting the right product and supply into a community can be very critical. So we look forward to hearing the discussion this morning about that rulemaking and where we are.
So there is plenty of work to be done and we have a vision before us. So in addition to certifying aircraft and the rigorous standards to carry passengers, the FAA and the industry will need to develop this very reliable traffic management system and work with our communities on how to integrate our existing infrastructure. So I thank all the witnesses for your work and appearing today to discuss how we keep moving forward together. Thank you.
Witness Panel 1
Mr. Jay MerkleExecutive DirectorUnmanned Aircraft Systems Integration Office, Federal Aviation Administration
Mr. Wayne MontiethAssociate Administrator, Office of Commercial Space TransportationFederal Aviation Administration
Mr. Dallas BrooksDirector, Raspet Flight Research LaboratoryMississippi State University
Mr. Zach LoveringVice PresidentUrban Air Mobility Systems, Airbus
Mr. Eric StallmerPresidentCommercial Spaceflight Federation