The Federal Aviation Administration is no longer being expected to issue final rules and allow flights of unmanned aircraft this year, according to New Jersey Republican Rep. Frank LoBiondo, as many issues still remain before commercial drone flights can be permitted.
LoBiondo, who chairs the House Transportation and Infrastructure subcommittee, opened a congressional hearing Wednesday into the many major technical and regulatory obstacles that are confronting the FAA as it works to clear the way for the flights, reports The Wall Street Journal,
and revealed regulations are at least two years behind schedule.
Lawmakers, who have been demanding the FAA accelerate its approval, have been asking if some small drones can be cleared before the rules are worked out. However, the overall plan, which Congress sought by late 2015, will likely not be completed until the end of this decade, industry and government officials said.
Flight experts say integrating commercial drones should be easy, as the unmanned aircrafts fly below 400 feet and outside the routes of airliners, and can be kept within sight of controllers on the ground.
But Department of Transportation Inspector General Calvin Scovel told the panel on Wednesday that the industry will need to develop new sensors so that unmanned aircraft can detect and avoid nearby planes.
In addition, said Scovel, "existing communication technology is also inadequate" to ensure safe operations if the data links between drones and on-ground controllers fail.
Further, Scovel said, air-traffic controllers are reporting that current systems are not adequate to keep track of drones, let alone keep them separate from manned aircraft.
The FAA has also not been able to replace ground-based air-traffic control networks with satellite-based technology, another priority for the agency, which Scovel says is leading to "stakeholder skepticism."
Scovel, in written testimony, said a FAA-created committee that aims at making pilots, not on-ground controllers, responsible for keeping drones separated from aircraft has concluded that drone technology is "not mature and that the costs and benefits were uncertain."
In addition, Scovel said, the technology behind unmanned aircraft "continues to evolve and therefore, it is uncertain when the technology can be implemented."
FAA Chief Michael Huerta, in written testimony to the panel, said his agency plans to seek public comment on rules for unmanned aerial vehicles, which could be deployed to inspect structures, keep track of animals or crops, check on utility lines and more.
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