Murkowski, Young Introduce Bicameral Bills Pushing for Safe Drone Usage

Senator Lisa Murkowski and Congressman Don Young announced companion legislation in both chambers of Congress aimed at urging the Federal Aviation Administration to create policies for safe usage of unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) across America’s skies.  Senator Lisa Murkowski introduced the bipartisan Safe Skies for Unmanned Aircraft Act of 2015 with co-sponsors Heidi Heitkamp (D-ND) and Ron Wyden (D-OR) in the Senate, and Congressman Young introduced legislation by the same name in the House of Representatives.

Beyond promoting safety in the air, the bill:

  • Opens the door for public-private partnerships to support UAS research, allowing universities to accept research funding from the private sector, and saving American taxpayers money.
  • Requires the FAA to remove bureaucratic hurdles to research operations for safe beyond ‘line of sight’ flying, an important research tool for medium- and long-distance applications.

“As we see more and more unmanned aircraft in use, it’s critical that we lay out rules of the road – and this bill starts by telling the FAA to get to work,” Murkowski said. “One of the most pressing items we discussed last week at the Arctic Encounter Symposium was how unmanned aerial systems can be game changers for Alaska, to work around our distances and lack of infrastructure.  Arctic research, delivering goods in the Bush, fire-fighting and policing in rural areas are all new possibilities for us, and with the private sector investing in research today, we can all benefit tomorrow.”

“In the last FAA reauthorization, Congress directed the creation of six regional UAS tests sites; however no funds were set aside to ensure their success,” said Congressman Young. “Our legislation will clear significant roadblocks that stand in the way of successful research activities, and work to strengthen and empower UAS test sites for the benefit of the FAA and all stakeholders.”

The lack of any rules or policies governing UAS was evident in last weekend’s Super Bowl.  Because the FAA had no laws to enforce, it was forced to create a No Drone Zone” spanning 30 miles in all directions around the stadium – totaling over 2,800 square miles.  Rules like those promoted by today’s bill would help limit such overbroad restrictions.

The Safe Skies for Unmanned Aircraft Act of 2015 aims to redefine how the FAA considers unmanned aerial systems – giving them greater autonomy and opportunities like those seen in commercial aviation. FAA’s currently bans universities from working with private sponsors to develop and research unmanned aircraft technology applications. The delegation, working in conjunction with the University of Alaska Fairbanks, believe the private sector must be allowed and encouraged to invest and participate in research activities.