Unmanned Aircraft in the National Airspace System

1 Jun

Read strictly between the capital T and the period, the text of this section envisioned the technological advancement of aviation technology and empowered the FAA to accommodate that foreseeable advance. Further, this section clearly established the symbiotic relationship between the administration and the industry that still exists – albeit sometimes maligned – to this day. This section allowed the FAA to “undertake or supervise” developmental work. This sentence gave teeth to the RTCA, and defined a relationship between the two groups that allowed more direct receipt of the technical opinions emanating from the stakeholder brain trust that had been lost in the white noise between industry engineers and beltway policy makers.

Until this point, technical messages had often been lost between the technical subject matter experts and the policy makers wrestling for control of the still burgeoning aviation industry. While the gap between air commerce and air safety had been bridged two decades prior, this section and § 312(f) cemented the role of the RTCA. While the text was clear, the intent and purpose were self evident; observers needed to look no further than the newspaper headlines and body counts resulting from the spectacular interplay between turbine and propeller aircraft.

The purpose of this section is similarly self-evident from this point in history. While legislators might not have envisioned the rise of unmanned aircraft, Congress empowered an administrative body committed to aviation safety looking beyond the horizon. Recognizing the leaps and bounds by which the aviation field had advanced in only a fistful of decades, legislators showed the foresight to build an administrative body both strong enough and flexible enough to weather future flight.



§ 312(c): Development Planning: Research and Development

“The Administrator shall develop, modify, test, and evaluate systems, procedures, facilities, and devices, as well as define the performance characteristics thereof, to meet the needs for safe and efficient navigation and traffic control of all civil and military aviation…and select such systems, procedures, facilities, and devices as will best serve such need and will promote maximum coordination of air traffic control and air defense systems.”41

Congress punctuated the power and flexibility of the new agency with this text, but laid textual emphasis on safety over efficiency. While the FAA can accommodate technological advances that serve the efficiency of air navigation, safety comes first. The purpose arguably may be to serve the development of the industry, but the primary intent was then and remains today the safety of the flying public and those on the ground below.

§ 312(f): Development Planning: Research Advisory Committee

This section and § 312(b)charged the Administrator with establishing a research advisory committee. RTCA had been in the mix since the days before the CAA, and was reaffirmed in the Federal Aviation Act. “The advisory committee shall provide advice and recommendations…regarding needs, objectives, plans, approaches, content, and accomplishments with respect to the aviation research program…The committee shall also assist in assuring that such research is coordinated with similar research being conducted outside of [the agency].”42 Members served without pay, and were required to be selected “from among persons who are not employees of [the agency] and who are specially qualified to serve on the committee by virtue of their education, training, or experience.” The Administrator was required to take a cross section of the aviation community, including representatives from “research centers of air transportation excellence, universities, corporations, associations, consumers, and other Government agencies.”43


41 Id. at 33.
42 Id. at 35.
43 Id. at 36.