Dec 28, 2014 5:59 AM

Congress likely to make key decisions on drones

The Associated Press

WASHINGTON (AP) The Obama administration is about to propose long-awaited rules for commercial drone operations in U.S. skies, but key decisions on how much access to grant drones are likely to come from Congress next year.

Federal Aviation Administration officials have said they want to release proposed rules before the end of this month, but other government and industry officials say they are likely to be delayed until January. Meanwhile, except for a small number of companies that have received FAA exemptions, a ban on commercial drone flights remains in place. Even after rules are proposed, regulations are unlikely to become final for two or three years.

That's too long to wait, say drone industry officials. Every year the ban remains in place, the United States loses more than $10 billion in potential economic benefits that drones could provide, according to the Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International, a trade group.

"We need some sort of process that allows some of the low-risk operations," said Jesse Kallman, the head of regulatory affairs for Airware, a drone technology company backed by Google Ventures. "I think Congress understands that and hopefully they'll take steps in the coming year to address that."

That appears to be what some key lawmakers have in mind. "We in Congress are very interested in UAS," Rep. Bill Shuster, R-Pa., chairman of the House Transportation and Committee, said at a hearing this month, referring to unmanned aerial systems, or drones. "We understand UAS are an exciting technology with the potential to transform parts of our economy. ... It is our responsibility to take a close look."

One of the committee's first priorities next year is writing legislation to reauthorize FAA programs and overhaul aviation policy. The bill is expected to include directions from lawmakers on how to integrate drones into the nation's aviation system.


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