Committee Explores the Integration of Unmanned Aircraft in National Airspace

Feb 15, 2013

Washington, D.C. — The Subcommittee on Oversight today held its first hearing of the 113th Congress, examining challenges and federal research and development (R&D) efforts to integrate Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS) safely into the National Airspace System (NAS).

Subcommittee Chairman Paul Broun, M.D. (R-GA): “Aviation has come a long way in a relatively short time thanks to American innovation and ingenuity. Just as UAS have sparked a revolution in military affairs, they will likely also transform civilian and commercial sectors.

“The threat of command and control link jamming, GPS navigation signal spoofing, and system hacking is a real concern that will have to be addressed before any UAS integration into the NAS.  Overcoming these challenges will require significant R&D investments by both the public and private sector.  Given our nation’s current financial state, this demands more efficient coordination between all stakeholders.”

The UAS market is dynamic and the civilian and commercial sectors are poised for explosive growth.  Last year, Congress passed the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) Modernization and Reform Act, which directed that federal agencies accelerate the integration of UAS into the national airspace.  As the lead agency, FAA is responsible for ensuring that the integration of UAS does not degrade the safety and efficiency of the NAS.

According to recent press reports, at least nine American UAS crashes occurred near civilian airports overseas as a result of pilot error, mechanical failure, software bugs or poor coordination with air traffic controllers.  Further, in August of 2010, a Navy UAS reportedly violated airspace over Washington, D.C. when operators lost contact due to a “software issue.”

Witnesses today discussed significant achievements, missed milestones and ongoing efforts to safely integrate UAS.  Witnesses also indicated that continued close collaboration among all UAS stakeholders will be critical to minimizing duplication of research and addressing remaining obstacles.

The following witnesses testified:

Dr. Karlin Toner, Director, Joint Planning and Development Office, Federal Aviation Administration (FAA)
Dr. Edgar Waggoner, Director, Integrated Systems Research Program Office, National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA)
Dr. Gerald Dillingham, Director, Civil Aviation Issues, Government Accountability Office (GAO)