Peters’ Amendments to FAA Bill Pass in Commerce Committee

WASHINGTON, DC – The Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee today approved two amendments introduced by U.S. Senator Gary Peters (MI) as part of legislation to reauthorize the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA). The first provision helps the Michigan Air National Guard’s 110th Attack Wing maintain its operations in Battle Creek, and the second measure supports the operation of unmanned aircraft systems (UAS), commonly referred to as drones, by higher education institutions for research and educational purposes.

“The 110th Attack Wing and its mission play a critical role in safeguarding America and our allies, and I am pleased the Commerce Committee passed my amendment to help protect one a critical military asset in Battle Creek,” said Senator Peters. “I will be working with my colleagues to pass this bipartisan legislation in the full Senate so that the Battle Creek Air National Guard Base and the 110th Attack Wing can continue their operations in Battle Creek.”

The Michigan Air National Guard pays a reduced rent for use of space at W.K. Kellogg Airport to maintain the Battle Creek Air National Guard Base where the 110th Attack Wing operates MQ-9 Reaper remotely piloted aircrafts (RPAs). Currently, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) requires airports applying for federal grants to charge fair market value to tenants, but provides an exemption for military units with an “aeronautical mission,” which may be charged a nominal lease. However, the FAA does not consider RPA operations an “aeronautical mission” for purposes of grants because the aircraft conduct operations across the world and are not stationed on base. Therefore, Kellogg Airport may lose their FAA grant eligibility if the Michigan Air National Guard’s rent is not increased to fair market value, potentially forcing the Guard to move operations elsewhere. Peters’ amendment would allow airports that renew nominal leases with military units to maintain eligibility for grants.

Peters’ second amendment supports the use of unmanned aircraft systems for research and education.

“It is important that Michigan’s students, researchers and educators have the ability to fly unmanned aircraft systems so they can not only work to advance these technologies, but can also get the training they need to ensure that the United States remains at the forefront of this growing industry,” said Senator Peters. “That is why I am pleased that my bipartisan UAS amendment is one step closer to passage, so that our education and research institutions can fully participate in these innovations, which will create good-paying jobs and boost our economy.”

“The University of Michigan thanks Senator Peters for introducing an amendment during today's FAA Reauthorization markup. This amendment is a step in the right direction and will begin to provide relief for the use of UAS for the purposes of research and education at institutions of higher education,” says Jack Hu, Vice President for Research at the University of Michigan. “We look forward to continuing this discussion and finding ways to increase and support opportunities for UAS innovation and education at our nation's universities.”

The provision puts the FAA on a timeline for establishing a process that will expedite and make more flexible the safe operation of UAS by institutions of higher education for educational or research purposes. If the FAA is unable to establish this process within 270 days, an institution of higher education can immediately begin operating small UAS at model aircraft fields approved by the Academy of Model Aeronautics or seek approval from the FAA to utilize an alternative designated outdoor flight field for UAS flight.

Unmanned aircraft systems are one of the fastest-growing industries in the United States. Over the next few years, UAS are estimated to create more than 700,000 new jobs and have an overall economic impact of $13.6 billion. Applications for UAS include law enforcement and military, oil and gas, engineering, traffic monitoring, broadcast news reporting, computer science, agriculture and film.