February 05, 2015

Wyden Launches Bipartisan Bill to Boost Commercial Unmanned Aircraft Research

Washington, D.C. – U.S. Senator Ron Wyden, D-Ore., today joined Senator Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, in introducing a bill that would encourage continued research and development of the potential uses of commercial unmanned aerial systems (UAS) in Oregon and across the country.

The bill, the Safe Skies for Unmanned Aircraft Act of 2015, would lift restrictions on unmanned aerial systems research that make it harder for universities and other research institutions to partner with private companies and find new ways to use commercial UAS. It would also expand aeronautical research as defined by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), which is responsible for ensuring the safety of U.S. airspace, to include natural resources and meteorological research.  

The bill would also direct the FAA to implement procedures to allow for safe, beyond-line-of-sight flights to conduct this research.

When it comes to commercial unmanned aircraft, the sky is the limit,” Wyden said. “This exciting technology can be applied in ways that haven’t even been dreamed up yet, and with the valuable research underway at institutions like Oregon State University, great things are on the horizon for UAS to safely and efficiently contribute to Oregon’s economy.”

Oregon State University is researching possible civilian uses for unmanned aircraft in natural resources, which could include observing stream erosion or tracking the path of wildfires. Oregon is home to three UAS test ranges: the Warm Springs Indian Reservation in central Oregon and airspace outside Pendleton and Tillamook.

Oregon State University partners with the University of Alaska to develop new ways to put unmanned aircraft to use for the benefit of consumers and businesses.

 “Oregon State University is actively working with industry, government and academia to help drive a new era of remote-sensing capabilities using autonomous systems for natural resource applications, such as precision agriculture, forest management and ocean health monitoring, that are critical to advancing Oregon’s economy,” said Ron Adams, Interim Vice President of Research at Oregon State University. “This legislation would help to accelerate the advancement of safe, beyond-the-line-of-sight operations of Unmanned Aerial Systems conducting aeronautical and natural resources research for civilian purposes in Oregon and across the nation.”

Wyden, along with Senators Jeff Merkley, D-Ore., Heidi Heitkamp, D-N.D., John Hoeven, R-N.D., and Cory Booker, D-N.J., asked the FAA in November to streamline its process for allowing UAS operators to test their aircraft at designated sites. 

Senator Heitkamp also cosponsored the bill. Representative Don Young, R-Alaska, introduced a similar version of the bill in the House of Representatives.

Read the bill here.


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