FAA Reauthorization: Harnessing the Evolution of Flight to Deliver for the American People
2167 Rayburn House Office Building
This is a hearing of the Subcommittee on Aviation.
Opening remarks by Aviation Subcommittee Chairman Garret Graves (R-LA) from today’s hearing entitled, “FAA Reauthorization: Harnessing the Evolution of Flight to Deliver for the American People”:
I want to thank all of the witnesses for being here today.
How would you feel if you prepared yourself for a 26.2-mile marathon, training months and months, working out really hard, and you get in that race, you’re at mile 26, and all of the sudden the course just ends? Forget that last .2 miles—you’re on your own. No more arrows pointing you in any direction, no finish line, no ability to actually finish the race and achieve your goal.
I’m afraid that’s the scenario new entrants into aviation find themselves in – our witnesses today represent innovators, users of new technology, and have spent years investing extraordinary amounts of money, time, and effort, and they haven’t actually been able to get to the finish line because we have a government that doesn’t have a process and doesn’t reflect any urgency in developing one.
We don’t have a process that’s capable of delivering, capable of certifying, capable of approving, or capable of integrating new technologies into the airspace.
Products like drones and Advanced Air Mobility are technologies which are thwarted because of the inability of government to move forward.
Over the past century of flight, the aviation industry has repeatedly proven it can safely introduce advancements that elevate the industry to new heights. Today we find ourselves at the next transformative point in aviation history.
We are seeing the autonomy, alternative sources of power, and new manufacturing processes being applied to aircraft in ways never done before. This isn’t a research project. This isn’t The Jetsons. These capabilities are here today.
Again, Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS, or more commonly referred to as “drones”) and Advanced Air Mobility (AAM) aircraft have the potential to revolutionize our transportation systems and directly improve our daily lives.
Ninety percent of Americans today live within 10 miles, for example, of a Walmart. And today, there are seven states – 36 stores – that are delivering Walmart products via drone. But why aren’t there more?
As one example of an application of where drones can be helpful – during the 2016 floods and Hurricane Laura in 2020 in my home state of Louisiana, drones were used to help do reconnaissance missions, to help do preliminary assessments of damage and to help identify if people were in need of rescue.
This technology was able to be deployed earlier, faster, and safer than alternative platforms. In many cases, the roads were unable to be driven – they were flooded or unpassable. And in other cases, the weather conditions were still such that putting up piloted aircraft was still too dangerous.
Again, drones could help solve these issues. And we have some drone users here today that have launched these styles of services that support communities.
Imagine a future where you can travel across town, from city to city, to an airport that is normally out of reach, in just a matter of minutes – bypassing traffic, flying over rivers or other obstacles while flying on a quiet AAM electric aircraft.
Our second panel is transforming what it means to be a small aircraft, taking passenger and cargo flights to the next level, and will discuss what Congress can do to expedite their commercial operations.
Despite the value provided to the public by both drones and AAM, both of them, as noted, have faced significant obstacles or hurdles as a result of the lack of predictability and certainty in the regulatory process of the FAA.
The FAA’s inability to make quick and sound decisions, and stick by those decisions, has resulted in a lack of clarity for new entrants in the market.
After over five years of trying, the FAA has succeeded in certifying a grand total of one drone.
We’re going to hear from Wing today about their efforts to certify a 10-pound drone made of Styrofoam and the innumerable roadblocks that have stood in their way.
We cannot allow the opportunities these technologies provide to our constituents to be stifled by endless red tape and requests for more data and studies.
Importantly, keep in mind these technologies aren’t going to stop. Just because the United States may not be capable of having a predictable regulatory process in place to facilitate these technologies, it doesn’t mean the innovators are going to stop. These people have overcome obstacles their entire lives, and all that’s going to happen is that we’re going to cede our leadership in aviation technology to other countries – and unfortunately, we’re seeing that today.
The last thing we need is the FAA’s lack of leadership and its unwillingness to accept new ideas to drive the next great age of aviation out of America.
The FAA can be the gatekeeper to the National Airspace System (NAS) and facilitate innovation—the two are not mutually exclusive.
As we hear from today’s witnesses, I urge my colleagues to think about how we can provide direction to the FAA, convince the agency to use the flexibilities it’s been afforded, and allow for the commercialization of drones and the variety of AAM platforms on the cusp of certification.While there are complex issues surrounding these technologies, I believe that we can find solutions to unlock the full potential of drones and AAM to flourish safely in American airspace.