Click here to watch Senator Wicker’s opening statement
WASHINGTON – U.S. Senator Roger Wicker, R-Miss., ranking member of the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation, today participated in an Aviation Safety, Operations and Innovation subcommittee hearing titled “FAA Reauthorization: Integrating New Entrants into the National Airspace System.” The hearing included testimony on the 2023 reauthorization of the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) and how the agency can best integrate uncrewed aviation systems (UAS) and advanced air mobility platforms.
Senator Wicker welcomed Mississippi resident Colonel (ret.) Stephen P. “Lux” Luxion as a witness at today’s hearing. Colonel Luxion is director of the ASSURE coalition, the FAA’s designated Center of Excellence for UAS research, which is headquartered at Mississippi State University.
Remarks as delivered:
Thank you, Madame Chairman and I say to the members of the panel, surely you must realize eventually you’re going to get a chance to talk at this hearing. But I do want to thank Senators Sinema, Cruz, and Cantwell for convening this hearing of the subcommittee and beginning work on reauthorizing the FAA for next year.
Today, there are nearly 900,000 registered drones used for recreational and commercial purposes. These drones perform a wide range of valuable tasks, such as cargo delivery, aerial photography, information gathering, and geographic mapping. During the recent pandemic, emergency waivers granted by the FAA provided a positive indication of the potential of drones. Operating safely outside the normal rules, we witnessed fleets of drones delivering food and medicine to those quarantined at home, giving us a window into the future.
Drone use during the pandemic also highlighted the importance of research and development (R&D) for improving safety and performance. In partnership with the FAA, universities and industry are now helping to enhance drone traffic management systems, air traffic control interoperability, safety, and pilot training. I am proud that my home state of Mississippi and Mississippi State University leads a consortium called “ASSURE” to carry out much of this critical R&D. In 2015, the FAA designated ASSURE as the agency’s Center of Excellence for drone R&D and recently agreed to extend that role through May of 2025.
I want to recognize ASSURE’s executive director, Steve Luxion, who is one of our witnesses today. I hope Mr. Luxion will touch on some of the important research carried out by ASSURE and how it will help integrate drones into our airspace in a safe manner.
Just as drones are becoming commonplace, another suite of aviation technology known as Advanced Air Mobility – or AAM – is emerging. AAM is not a single technology but rather a collection of technologies applied to the aviation system.
AAM vehicles have many potential uses, such as transporting passengers, as Senator Cantwell has alluded, moving cargo, assisting firefighters, and connecting rural communities to larger cities. Electric powered aircraft or “air taxis,” for example, may someday be able to airlift people like me across town or to the airport in a matter of minutes.
Much of the basic technology for AAM aircraft is already developed. The FAA could begin certifying AAM vehicles as early as 2024. The industry has now shifted its focus to infrastructure and workforce development and the regulatory process.
The last FAA Reauthorization Act helped pave the way for expanded drone use. I hope next year’s bill will do the same for AAM. In that vein, the committee would benefit from our witnesses’ perspectives on regulatory and policy questions that we should tackle in the reauthorization bill.
As we gather inputs for reauthorization, we should be mindful of the safety, efficiency, and security of new technologies while at the same time continuing to promote innovation in this vital sector.
Thank you Senator Sinema, and I yield back one minute and twenty one seconds.