The U.S. Department of Transportation announced new members of the FAA Drone Advisory Committee (DAC), a stakeholder group counseling the agency on the safe integration of drones into the national airspace and how to best prioritize regulatory progress as the sector continues to rapidly innovate.
Among the new members are Dr. Jaiwon Shin, former NASA associate administrator for aeronautics now leading Hyundai Motor Group’s urban air mobility division, and Dr. Catherine Cahill, director of the Alaska Center for Unmanned Aircraft Systems Integration. Both are listed under a new new “advanced air mobility” stakeholder group, which previously was not listed or represented by the advisory committee, signaling more consideration for issues surrounding the introduction of larger “drones” into the low altitude airspace than previous iterations of the DAC.
Molly Wilkinson, vice president of regulatory affairs for American Airlines, and Seleta Reynolds, general manager of Los Angeles’ department of transportation, also appear on the list of new members. L.A., which was a launch city of Uber Elevate — now Joby Aviation’s product division, with its former partnerships and agreements in various degrees of limbo — recently launched a public-private partnership to prepare for the introduction of eVTOLs by 2023, funded in part by Hyundai UAM.
Other new members include Brad Hayden, founder and CEO of drone maintenance provider Robotic Skies, and Adam Bry, co-founder and CEO of American small dronemaker Skydio, which in July secured $100 million in Series C funding to continue developing its standout autonomy capabilities.
The FAA has struggled to manage its relationship with the drone industry and successfully develop regulation in partnership with diverse groups of stakeholders, often holding opposite views on controversial policy areas like privacy and remote identification. The agency’s final rule on remote ID, published in the final week of December, abandoned a network option for implementation in favor of a simpler, less effective broadcast-only approach — in part because the Remote ID Cohort assembled last year to work out core technical and policy details “identified several challenges with implementing the network requirements,” according to the FAA, and could not agree on how to meet those challenges.
The appropriations bill passed by Congress on Dec. 21 requires the agency to report on how it plans to address safety concerns necessary to enable beyond visual line-of-sight (BVLOS) flight, also including $6 million in funding to match commercial entities contracting with FAA-designated UAS test sites to demonstrate or validate relevant technologies.
In just under 1,000 days, Congress will have to reauthorize the FAA — a chance for the legislative branch to include (and perhaps even fund) new requirements for the agency regarding drones, eVTOLs and advanced air mobility.