Automated Transportation Policy and Guidance Flies Ahead, but Stalls in Senate

October 5, 2018

Autonomous transportation is the industry’s hot topic of the week. U.S. DOT unveiled its Automated Vehicle (AV) policy 3.0, and the Senate passed the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) reauthorization bill by a vote of 93-6, which contained dozens of sections related to unmanned aerial systems (UAS). Notably, the aviation bill did not include the AV START or SELF DRIVE act (choose your preferred short title and acronym), a bill that would establish federal legislative AV policy, as some had hoped. But with the lame duck session of the 115th Congress still to come and a new 116th Congress opening on January 3, the policy deliberation on AVs from the ground to the skies has just begun.

McGuireWoods Consulting and Connected CarTalkDC hosted a panel this week of legislative, agency, and industry individuals working on AV and UAS issues:

  • Finch Fulton, Deputy Assistant Secretary for Transportation Policy, U.S. DOT
  • Cheri Pascoe, Senior Professional Staff Member and Investigator, Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee (Majority)
  • Margaret Nagle, Head of Policy and Government Affairs, Wing
  • Jackie Keshian, Professional Staff Member, Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee (Majority)

Accepting congratulations on the FAA reauthorization’s passage, Keshian turned to the work laid out in the bill, including the commitment to ascertaining a tech-neutral, risk-based regulatory framework and the steady development of a UAS traffic management system (UTM). The House Transportation and Infrastructure committee is well aware of the latter priority and held a hearing on airspace integration in September.

Nagle admitted that Australia’s less regimented operation certifications made the country a more attractive site for initial testing than the United States. She also endorsed the Integrated Pilot Program’s community engagement at the state and local levels and how it tests different ways governments might approach certifying private operations. For example, restrictions could be based on hours of the day, geospatial no-fly zones, or a maximum flying height. The hope is that these IPP findings will provide more data on the implications of each to inform the final chosen framework.

As a standalone bill, the Senate’s AV START bill is unlikely to get the floor time needed to pass before the end of the congressional term. Nevertheless, its development has activated the full range of stakeholder interests from populations unable to drive (i.e. the elderly and disabled) to local traffic enforcement. Pascoe spoke of a congressional staff delegation to China that served as a wake-up call for bolstering American competitiveness in the global AV field. The next Congress will undoubtedly be tasked with taking up a similar bill.

The future of the workforce, a topic that Eno is rigorously researching, remains a source of caution and anxiety. Deputy Assistant Secretary Fulton referred to the unrealized fear that automation in airline flying would render pilots obsolete during the 1970s and also inconclusive conclusions from an August 2017 Department of Commerce Chief Economist report about the effects of autonomy on trucking and other driver jobs. Along with the 3.0 guidance coming out the next morning, U.S. DOT would (and did) also launch a comprehensive workforce research initiative, seeking economists, jointly with the Departments of Commerce, Labor, and Health and Human Services.

Responding to an audience question about consumer pushback, panelists reiterated that safety remains paramount in their work. After all, it is the key component of building public acceptance and trust of these new technologies—the final frontier after hashing out the government’s role in regulation.


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