March 30, 2023

Ranking Members Larsen, Cohen Statements from FAA Reauthorization Hearing on New Entrants

Washington, D.C. — The following are opening remarks, as prepared for delivery, from Ranking Member of the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure Rick Larsen (D-WA) and Ranking Member of the Subcommittee on Aviation Steve Cohen (D-TN), during today’s hearing titled, “FAA Reauthorization: Harnessing the Evolution of Flight to Deliver for the American People.”

Video of Larsen’s and Cohen’s opening statements can be found here and here.

More information on the hearing can be found here.


Ranking Member Larsen:

Thank you, Chairman Graves, for calling today’s FAA reauthorization hearing on “Harnessing the Evolution of Flight to Deliver for the American People.”

Nearly ten years ago, this committee first explored the safe integration of new airspace entrants, including uncrewed aircraft systems (UAS or drones) and advanced air mobility (AAM) aircraft, into the national airspace system (NAS).

What was once considered aviation technology of the distant future is happening now, and these innovative technologies are rapidly emerging in U.S. skies.

According to the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), there are more than 872,000 registered UAS in this country, of which nearly 339,000 are registered for commercial operations.

In my home state of Washington, UAS will soon be used to deliver critical medical supplies in the Tacoma area through a partnership between Zipline and MultiCare Health System, helping to reduce barriers to care for patients.

Furthermore, according to industry projections more than 200 companies worldwide are developing electric vertical takeoff and landing (eVTOL) aircraft, with potential applications ranging from cargo transport to alternative passenger mobility options.

While the potential benefits of these advanced aviation technologies are promising, the upcoming FAA reauthorization bill must continue to prioritize aviation safety, while also ensuring U.S. innovation leads globally. 

The FAA’s mission is to ensure the safest aerospace system in the world, a task that is growing more complex due to new airspace entrants.

In 2012, Congress required the FAA to develop a comprehensive plan to accelerate the safe integration of civil UAS into the NAS. Since then, the FAA has issued final rules to expand potential commercial activities; including permitting the operation of small UAS (commonly referred to as Part 107), remote identification (remote ID) and operation of small UAS over people.

More recently, the FAA announced a self-imposed deadline of December 2024 to issue a rule on AAM certification standards and operating requirements.

Unfortunately, however, the FAA’s path to safely integrating new entrants was challenging? with organizational inefficiencies, prolonged delays and unpredictable waiver and approval processes.

Although the FAA must reassess and recommit itself to addressing these issues, in no way should the agency or Congress jeopardize the safety of the traveling public to do so.

This means working with the FAA and key aviation stakeholders to implement an appropriate federal regulatory framework to allow these industries to scale, so the U.S. can remain the leader in aviation safety and innovation.

With each passing year, climate change continues to be a growing threat to millions of Americans.

Electric and hydrogen propulsion systems employed by many UAS and AAM aircraft rely on low and zero-emission technologies, which have the potential to significantly reduce the harmful impacts of greenhouse gases and noise.

A recent National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) study found that Joby’s eVTOL aircraft measured noise levels during take-off and landing below 65 dBA, which is comparable to normal conversation, at a distance of 330 feet from the flight path.

Congress must robustly invest in critical research to leverage the environmental benefits of these technologies, especially for communities disproportionately affected by the carbon and noise emissions of traditional aircraft.

The development and deployment of new entrants also presents opportunities for job creation in the U.S.

According to industry projections, the AAM sector is expected to generate an estimated 280,000 jobs by 2035.

Additionally, drones can be used to support critical work that would otherwise be unsafe or difficult for people and crewed aircraft to perform on their own.

For instance, the Arizona Department of Transportation uses small UAS to examine hard-to-reach areas in canyons and across large waterways to help supplement their inspections.

Which is why my colleague, Representative Greg Stanton of Arizona, led the bipartisan House passage of the Drone Infrastructure Inspection Grant Act last Congress, to fund state, local and Tribal governments’ use of UAS in certain circumstances.

To further harness this technology for the American people, we must better equip the next generation of U.S. aviation workforce with the skills necessary to compete globally.

Although getting through type certification is the main goal for many in the UAS and AAM industries, it cannot be the only objective.

Congress, the FAA and industry must have early and meaningful engagement with local communities to ensure their priorities and any potential concerns are adequately addressed.

Which is why Congress enacted my bill with Chairman Garret Graves, the Advanced Aviation Infrastructure Modernization Act, to help states and local communities begin to plan for future AAM operations and the infrastructure needed to support it.

But it is clear there is more work to do.

With safety as the guiding principle, the 2023 FAA reauthorization is an opportunity to support U.S. innovation, foster sustainability and improve U.S. global leadership.

Thank you again to today’s witnesses. I look forward to examining how Congress, the FAA, local communities and the aviation industry can support the safe and efficient integration of these new airspace entrants.


Ranking Member Cohen:

Thank you. I look forward to hearing from our esteemed witnesses on both panels today as we examine the integration of new aircraft – such as uncrewed aircraft systems (UAS) or drones and electric vertical takeoff and landing (eVTOL) aircraft – into our national airspace. 

Both drones and advanced air mobility or AAM, have the potential to both change how we travel and how we transport goods and services. 

This is especially true in my district, home to Federal Express and Memphis International Airport, one of the busiest cargo airports in the world because of FedEx and the work they have done. 

In 2018, the Memphis airport was selected by the Department of Transportation to participate in its UAS Integration Pilot Program. 

The airport partnered with the City of Memphis, the University of Memphis, the Tennessee Department of Transportation, FedEx and others to conduct advanced drone operations in five different airspaces, including within the airport perimeter. 

Some of the practical applications that were tested and demonstrated include precision agriculture, remote aircraft and runway inspections, commercial package delivery, night flight operations, and emergency response and remote medical device deployment.

Upon successful conclusion of the three-year program, the Memphis Airport and FedEx were selected by the FAA for its new drone program, BEYOND.

This program focuses on working toward operating under established rules rather than waivers, collecting data to develop performance-based standards, collecting and addressing community feedback, streamlining the approval processes for drone integration and more. 

The most recent drone flight operations took place over the FedEx ramp with the goal of detecting foreign object debris to enhance airfield safety and conducting security inspections along the airport perimeter fence line to supplement existing security systems and protocols.

To date, the Memphis Airport and FedEx team have flown approximately 2,000 successful drone flights.

I also applaud the University of Memphis FedEx Institute of Technology’s focus on drone research and appreciate its potential to have a major economic impact on our region.

As we will hear from our witnesses here today, we have much more work to do to ensure that FAA’s regulatory framework adequately supports this evolving aviation sector and to prevent the United States from falling behind on UAS integration. 

I also look forward to learning more about how our Subcommittee can support the evolving advanced air mobility sector, which has the potential to move people and cargo between places previously not served or underserved by traditional aviation or emergency vehicles.

I look forward to healthy discussion from those experienced with AAM concepts to shed further light on how to better support this growing sector. We need to be especially conscious of working with the communities who integrate these new operations into their transportation systems, and ensure they have a genuine voice in the room as we get closer to implementation.

With attention being shifted towards accommodating and embracing new entrants into our national airspace, with AAM and drones at the forefront, we must be vigilant and conscientious with our efforts to ensure that aviation safety remains a top priority for not only those in the air, but also those on the ground.

I look forward to working with Chairman Graves, our colleagues, our witnesses here today and other stakeholders on the next FAA reauthorization bill.