Recently, Jim Williams, who managed the FAA office to integrate drones into the U.S. airspace retired. He then had the opportunity to speak at McKenna Long & Aldrige’s unmanned aircraft systems symposium in Washington, D.C. Safely outside of the FAA, Williams had some interesting things to say about the route and challenges to drones operating safely in American skies.
Here are some points that stood out as he reflected on his time at the FAA, and looked forward to the future of unmanned flight:
- He expects drone package delivery in five years.
- Well funded, Amazon’s drone program is a juggernaut, but he believes they are out of touch with the challenges of flying safely in cities.
- He thinks we may eventually see unmanned cargo jets. He sees this as a real possibility in as little as 20 years.
- He described his former job as enough work for three people. (Literally, his job is being split into three and spread across three different people. Now someone manages the radio spectrum, and they allocate it for unmanned commercial flights, someone else handles all of the internal work and the final role handles all of the external work.)
- He would’ve liked to get the proposed rules for commercial drone flight done sooner. He shared the frustration of missed deadlines with the drone community.
- Having the White House’s attention isn’t fun. You get too much scrutiny.
- He’s not a big fan of the proposed drone legislation from Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J.) and John Hoeven (R-N.D.).
When moderator Mark Dombroff asked Williams about his greatest disappointment with respect to drones, he cited the time it took to release the proposed rules for drones weighing under 55 pounds. These missed deadlines were a point of frustration for many in the drone community.
“When I took over I thought we’d get it out in a few months,” Williams said. “But the bottom line was what I inherited wasn’t very good. And so it needed a lot of work. And what you see is I think a much better product than what I inherited when I took over.”