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Sep 10, 2015 | News

Former FAA employee talks drone regulations

The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has been catching some heat with its proposed drone regulations and the slow-moving process around them. Jim Williams, former manager of the FAA’s Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS) integration office, spoke at the International Drone Conference and Exposition (InterDrone) this week in Las Vegas, giving some insight into what is going on behind the FAA’s thought process.

(InterDrone is produced by BZ Media, publisher of InterDrone News.)

“It’s a very laborious process,” he said. “The regulatory process by design is deliberative… You don”T want to do sort of half-thought out rules that causes more problems than they solve.”

According to Williams, the period we are in is just a baby step to integrating drones in the national airspace. The current proposed drone regulations are meant to ensure safety above all. “One of the things to understand is this rule is based on the concept that [it] will protect people on the ground from unmanned aircraft crashes,” he said.

But while the rule aims to protect people, Williams said that it also is creating a whole new regulatory structure for small unmanned aircraft and setting up foundational things that can be worked on going forward, such as UAS operators certificates.

Some projects the FAA is currently working on to explore other drone avenues include:

  • Visual line-of-sight operations in urban areas: The agency is working with CNN to see how drones could be safely used for newsgathering in populated areas
  • Extended visual line-of-sight operations in rural areas: The agency is working with PrecisionHawk to see how drones flying outside the pilot’s direct line-of-sight could benefit crop monitoring and other precision agriculture operations
  • Beyond visual line-of-sight in rural and isolated areas: The agency is working with the BNSF Railway to explore command-and-control challenges of using drones for inspecting rail systems

According to Williams, these projects are going to help inform future laws for integrating drones safely in the airspace in different ways.

“Things are really moving forward in the regulatory world for the FAA,” he said. “By all means it is not done; it will never be done.”