Speakers at the AUVSI Unmanned System Program Review conference pushed to ease restrictions on UAV use in domestic U.S. airspace and urged attendees to pressure Congress to take action.
Jim Williams, who heads the Unmanned Aircraft Systems Integration Office at the Federal Aviation Administration, told the Washington, D.C., audience Feb. 13 that the market for domestic drone use could be worth $90 billion over the next decade. Responding to frustrated industry representatives, Williams pledged that proposed rules would be released by the end of the year.
“I know that the rule-making process is slow, and no one is more frustrated by that than me,” Williams said.
Peter Bale, chairman of the Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International, told the crowd to lobby their representatives, and singled out April 9 as an industry day on Capitol Hill.
Rep. Buck McKeon, R-Calif., chairman of the House Armed Services Committee and the head of the House Unmanned Systems Caucus, pledged in a video message to continue to push to open domestic skies for unmanned vehicles.
“The 47 bipartisan members of this caucus will continue to work the appropriate federal agencies to ensure an efficient and constitutional integration process,” he said.
At the conference, several companies emphasized lighter, more compact products.
Among them were Gilat Satellite Networks, which presented its UAV family of satellite communications terminals. Although weighing only 22 pounds, the system can transmit more than 1 megabit per second from a UAV.
A spokesman said the system is ready to deploy “anywhere” in the world, and noted that Lockheed Martin has purchased five of the UAV units.
Crystal Group showcased its line of “rugged” servers and monitors, made from aircraft-grade aluminum. Marketing Manager K. Jakelyn Coon said the systems are designed for use in everything from the space station to foreign deployments.
Maryland-based UAV Solutions featured its new lines of UAV systems weighing 25 pounds or less. They include the quadcopter Allerion 25 model, which business development manager Kasey Cooper described as simple to customize, with easily swapped payloads for military, police and first responders.
In addition to industry, Pentagon representatives were present.
Col. Bill Tart, director of the Remotely Piloted Aircraft Capabilities Division of the Air Force, told the gathering that industry needs to be smarter with how it talks to Capitol Hill and the Pentagon about unmanned vehicles, especially in the face of sequestration.
“The numbers are going to get smaller. They just are,” Tart said, even without sequestration. “But what you have to come in with is, ‘This is the requirement that this will fill, and we’re the best ones to fill it because x, y and z.’”
What those requirements will be are still being decided at the Pentagon, but Tart laid out a preview of what he would be looking for. “Link surety and advanced encryption is a gotta-have,” he said. “That’s a safety-of-flight issue, and it’s a solid intelligence and weapon issue.”