Friday, September 5, 2014
Inquirer Daily News

N.J. in the age of unmanned aircraft

By Frank A. LoBiondo

and Michael Toscano

In December, the Federal Aviation Administration selected New Jersey to be among six national sites for commercial testing of unmanned aircraft systems (UAS). It was not only a historic moment for the Garden State, but also for the nation.

Whether it is aiding search-and-rescue efforts, fighting wildfires, surveying the safety of our infrastructure, or securing our borders, unmanned aircraft hold tremendous potential to revolutionize industries and, most importantly, help us do dangerous or difficult tasks safely and efficiently.

New Jersey, in partnership with Virginia, submitted a joint proposal led by Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University as the Mid-Atlantic Aviation Partnership. The university will combine its resource assets with our very own Rutgers University, while also leveraging research support from the FAA's William J. Hughes Technical Center in Egg Harbor Township, as well as other academic, private, and public institutions.

On Tuesday, the U.S. House subcommittee on aviation is scheduled to hold a field hearing at that very center to discuss, in part, the benefits of UAS technology and the capabilities the Tech Center can provide for not only our test site, but the other five as well. The timing is fitting, given that the FAA's designation is expected to attract jobs and boost the economies of the states that will host the sites - something New Jersey unquestionably welcomes.

According to an economic report by the Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International (AUVSI), New Jersey is poised to create more than 1,300 jobs in the state in the first three years following the integration of UAS into the National Airspace System, for which Congress has set a deadline of September 2015. This could lead to a $26 million economic impact that could grow to more than $1.5 billion by 2025. Now that New Jersey is a designated UAS test site, these numbers hold greater potential to increase.

In addition to the economic impact, there are several societal benefits to UAS. The technology is already demonstrating its value across the nation under limited circumstances, from monitoring disease in agricultural fields to collecting data during hurricanes. Further testing and operation of this technology will soon help search-and-rescue operations, the surveying of critical infrastructure such as highways, bridges, and dams, and scientific research on everything from volcanoes to wildlife.

While this technology holds plenty of promise, people from across the political spectrum have raised legitimate concerns about how exactly this technology would be used. As with any new technology, we have a responsibility to ensure it is used safely and responsibly, and with respect for the rights we as Americans deeply cherish.

We understand Americans' concerns about privacy and are committed to ensuring the technology is used responsibly. Congress is currently evaluating the application of existing privacy laws, while AUVSI has been working with privacy advocates, elected officials, and federal regulators to address this topic.

Striking the right balance to protect our rights while advancing innovation can benefit us all. There is little debate over the potential benefits of unmanned systems. This technology has the ability to change the way New Jersey industries work today, while possibly opening up new ones in the future. We must work together to ensure that we are able to realize its full benefits while protecting the civil liberties we've long valued.

U.S. Rep. Frank A. LoBiondo (R., N.J.) is the chairman of the House subcommittee on aviation. He represents New Jersey's Second Congressional District, which includes Atlantic, Cape May, Cumberland, and Salem Counties, and parts of Camden, Gloucester, Burlington, and Ocean Counties. Michael Toscano is the president and CEO of the Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International.

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