At the CES Unmanned Systems conference in Las Vegas last week, Administrator of the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), Michael Huerta, provided the public with an update on the state of our unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) in the United States, and how the FAA plans to grow the UAS industry in the coming year.

Huerta’s speech, “Drones: A Story of Revolution and Evolution,” discussed the “revolution in the technology and how it’s being used” and the “evolution in the way [the FAA is] approaching this new entrant into the National Airspace System.” However, he recognized the challenges in this sphere, saying, “Our challenge is to find the right balance where safety and innovation co-exist on relatively equal planes.” The release of Part 107 in 2016 certainly helped set safety standards, while allowing drone operators to continue to (and expand) operation of drones in our skies, along with the establishment of the Drone Advisory Committee, and the work done with NASA to establish a UAS traffic management system. He also pointed out the growing Pathfinder Program, which conducts drone-detection research (for safe, autonomous operations), and the FAA’s upcoming website re-design which will become a “one-stop-shop for all unmanned aircraft interactions with the FAA,” including registering drones, reporting an accident and applying for an airspace authorization.

Huerta also noted that over 670,000 drone operators have registered their UAS (or drones) since the implementation of the registration requirement; over 7 million UAS could be sold in the United States by the year 2020, and since Part 107 went into affect, more than 16,000 people took the remote pilot test (with 90 percent passing rate).

He also explained that the FAA must continue to work in “close collaboration and partnership with the industry and those who fly unmanned aircraft for both recreation and commercial purposes.” Huerta said, “It’s a great start, but it’s just the beginning. We know there are many important issues yet to be addressed. And we know we can’t do it alone. We will always need the input and expertise of all of our stakeholders, so we can craft the right kinds of policies and solutions to the challenges before us.”