The Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International (AUVSI) calls itself the world’s largest nonprofit organization devoted exclusively to advancing the unmanned systems and robotics community. With over 7,000 members, AUVSI is a powerful advocate for the commercial drone industry, representing its views in government halls and the media; and participating in congressional hearings, coalitions, task forces and committees to support innovation and business.
At the helm of AUVSI is Brian Wynne, president and CEO. Mr. Wynne has been a long-time supporter of technology innovations. Before joining AUVSI, he was the president of the Electric Drive Transportation Association (EDTA), promoting alternative fuel electric vehicles and infrastructure; prior to that he held a senior leadership position at the Intelligent Transportation Society of America and was CEO of the Association for Automatic Identification and Mobility (AIM.)
DRONELIFE was able to catch up with Brian just after attending the FAA symposium in Florida and prior to next week’s Xponential , AUVSI’s huge networking and training conference, to talk about the future of commercial drone industry and drone regulation in the US.
As the current FAA Reauthorization package works its way through Congress, Brian and his organization are focused on both short-term and long-term changes. While the FAA Reauthorization package offers some focus on important regulation for the commercial drone industry – like BVLOS flight (beyond visual line of sight), and drone delivery – AUVSI is first concerned that the Small UAS Rule – with a risk-based structure for regulation – be published soon as the FAA has promised. Wynne says that more important than the details contained in the FAA Reauthorization package is the fact that Congress is prioritizing the drone industry and sending a clear message that the FAA should move faster. “There is an emphasis in the FAA Reauthorization package that rulemakers need to change their regulatory mindset,” he says.
Recent communications indicate that the agency is moving towards UAS integration in a more nimble and collaborative way. “The FAA is working towards putting together an advisory body to prioritize steps: bringing stakeholders together, senior people from industry who will need to compromise, work together and invest,” says Wynne. “They’ve promised that there will be an announcement about new steps from the FAA at Xponential. ”
Speed is of the essence, as far as AUVSI is concerned; and he applauds lawmakers’ efforts to get legislation done faster. “There is a sense in the FAA that they need to take smaller bites and chew faster…That is a very positive development – but it won’t matter if we don’t actually get rules on the books and get certificated operators flying.”
Wynne points out that it won’t be until drones are actually flying that regulators and the industry can work out any problems. “The patchwork that’s emerging [from state and local regulations] is going to create more of a challenge for the industry. We have to get regulations in place – we have to start flying. We need to get up in the air to gather data, to see what’s required. There will be challenges, but FAA is not going to solve those challenges – industry is going to solve those challenges.”
The safety of the NAS will be best served by having more certified, commercial operators flying, Wynne says; commenting that his organization is happy to participate in certification programs. “AUVSI will be one of the first to launch a program to train operators… the more people we have who are invested and educated, the more people will be looking out for unsafe operators and helping to educate them.”
Mr. Wynne feels that lawmakers and the FAA are making progress, and that the combination of a fast-growing industry and the political will to support it leaves the industry poised to expand. But while he finds the FAA’s new approach hopeful, he says that the drone industry will need to continue their efforts to ensure that regulation supports innovation. His own attitude makes it clear: “I’m optimistic, but I’m not resting.”