A key committee in the US House of Representatives has approved two bills seeking grants to prepare for expanded drone operation and future urban air mobility (UAM) services like air taxis, and is now passing those along for full legislative examination and voting.
The development came with the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee’s 54-4 backing of a bill aiming create a program to provide funding for increased drone use in infrastructure inspections. A separate bill waved through on a 55-2 vote seeks to establish a grant mechanism for the development of UAM facilities like vertiports for air taxi flights. Odds for passage of the texts by the full House appear good, given the strong – and increasingly rare – bipartisan support of the committee.
The pair of bills would designate at least $225 million in funding to accelerate drone deployment in infrastructure inspections, and crank up work on UAM installations in time for air taxi operation that may begin as soon as 2024. Not surprisingly, the proposed texts had been energetically supported by the aviation industry, which is worried that many states won’t be able to get ready for new and expanded aerial services without help.
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The first draft law calls for creating a grant program worth $100 million to help encourage and finance expanded infrastructure inspections by drones, and an additional $100 million for the training of personnel required to facilitate that increased activity.
“Drone technology has the potential to save lives and help preserve essential infrastructure,” said Greg Pecoraro, president and CEO of the National Association of State Aviation Officials. “This bill would provide much-needed funding for drone infrastructure inspection equipment and education and training at the state and local levels. This will not only help states aviation agencies acquire drone technology to safely inspect critical infrastructure, but also bolster the workforce needed to manage it, and improve public safety.”
The second text seeking to earmark finances for construction of UAM facilities initially targets just $25 million. That’s a curiously small amount, given how the slow progress toward creating vertiports for air taxis is considered one of the biggest threats to impeding service launches once aircraft are ready – and has largely been left to private sector companies to orchestrate.
There may be more of support for the UAM side from the government on the way, however, given the stakes involved. The National Business Aviation Association says that if air taxi operation and other next generation aerial services are sufficiently supported, they have the potential for creating nearly 300,000 jobs and generating annual business of $115 billion by 2035.
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