Federal Drone Committee Faces ‘Kitty Hawk Moment’


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The body’s lone local government representative discusses filling the late San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee’s shoes and keeping pace with technology.

The Federal Aviation Administration’s recently rechartered Drone Advisory Committee convened for the first time this week and faces a “Kitty Hawk moment” when it comes to balancing innovation with regulation, Wade Troxell told Route Fifty after the meeting.

Troxell, the mayor of Fort Collins, Colorado, replaces San Francisco’s former Mayor Ed Lee, who passed away while in office in December, as the lone local elected official on the committee.

The committee, which met in Santa Clara, California on Tuesday, has been rechartered as part of the FAA, rather than a subgroup of the Radio Technical Commission for Aeronautics. Troxell points to that fact as a sign the federal government is taking rapid advances in unmanned aircraft systems, or UAS, seriously.

“A lot of it is getting the arms around, if you will, where drone technology is going,” Troxell said. “What you don’t want to do is overregulate and kill the promise of the technology.”

Police in Fort Collins already use drones to investigate accidents, as do firefighters to observe the size of wildfires. But in the latter instance, the firefighters already saw their drones grounded due to conflicts with other aircraft in the area.

Two out of three presentations Troxell heard during the DAC’s first meeting concerned safe integration plans for drones into airspace.

Lee’s legacy on the committee was the notion that drones turn every part of cities into airports, Troxell said.

The Building Services department in Fort Collins uses drones to certify construction work was done properly, prior to issuing certificates of occupancy. And the city, home to an international drone racing champion, is contemplating a “vertical park” with its UAS-savvy residents “competing at an elite level,” Troxell said.

Other signs of the times: 137 U.S. lives have been saved through drone use, and the FAA now sees more unmanned than manned aircraft registrations. But the first responder and economic benefits of drones can’t overshadow neighborhood privacy concerns, Troxell said.

Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao left several DAC positions open this time around, but tech companies like Google, Facebook and Amazon are all present and testing out different UAS applications.

“I think it’s very important there’s a local government place at the table,” Troxell said. “And I’m making my voice heard.”

Dave Nyczepir is a News Editor at Government Executive’s Route Fifty and is based in Washington, D.C.

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