Acting FAA Administrator Dan Elwell says the agency’s role is to “enable the emergent UAS [unmanned air systems] industry,” but to do so in a way that “doesn’t in any way reduce or impinge on the viability of the growth prospects of the rest of the NAS [national airspace system].”

In early March, he told attendees at both the Helicopter Association International’s Heli-Expo and those attending a legislative summit co-hosted by the Airports Council International-North America and the American Association of Airport Executives in Washington that the FAA has no plans to segregate drones from the rest of the airspace. He noted at the latter that the population of more than 100,000 registered drone operators flying more than 300,000 commercial-registered drones is too large to segment within an NAS already plagued by congestion constraints.

Elwell also said he “will fight” to make sure the FAA does not assume responsibility for counter-UAS operations, saying that doing so could risk unleashing “a host of unintended consequences.”

Instead of having the agency manage counter-UAS duties, he pointed to arrangements worked out between the FAA and the Energy, Homeland Security and Justice departments to shoot threatening drones out of the sky as a model for how the FAA could collaborate with airports in the future.