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FAA to name adviser to handle 'crush' of industry drone queries

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(Reuters) — The Federal Aviation Administration on Wednesday said it would place a higher priority on integrating drones into the national air space by appointing a senior adviser to coordinate relations with industry and other outside stakeholders.

FAA Administrator Michael Huerta said the new position would deal with "an absolute crush" of outside interest from the private sector and allow regulators within the agency's Unmanned Aircraft Systems, or UAS, integration office to concentrate on crafting new regulations for commercial drone use.

He said the aim was to put "more resources" on drone integration "to elevate its profile within the agency."

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The job, which has not yet been filled, is the latest FAA action to enhance its accommodation of commercial drones in the face of mounting pressure from Congress and private industry.

The FAA, which hopes to have final regulations in place by the start of 2017, has also taken steps to broaden the corporate use of drones on a case-by-case basis.

"It's almost an external focus on how we can ensure that we're being responsive to industry and the global community, while at the same time actually getting the work done that's getting things into the air space system," Mr. Huerta told reporters.

The Small UAV Coalition, which includes e-commerce companies Amazon.com and Google Inc., said the change could further expedite FAA movement on commercial drones.

"Elevating and more fully resourcing the UAS industry at the FAA is long overdue but a welcome recognition," said coalition executive director Michael Drobac.

The change essentially splits in two the position of former FAA drone office manager James Williams, who recently retired.

The new senior UAS adviser will report to FAA Deputy Administrator Michael Whitaker and have broad scope to deal with the public, the aviation industry, state and local governments, members of Congress and others.

A job posting for the senior adviser's position, which closed May 29, included a salary range of $123,700 to $174,200.

Mr. Williams' regulatory duties will also be elevated within FAA. The new drone office director, who has yet to be named, will report to Margaret Gilligan, associate FAA administrator for aviation safety. Mr. Williams reported instead to the agency's flight standards director.

Mr. Huerta told reporters that the UAS integration office will retain its concentration on rulemaking and the granting of interim exemptions from a near-ban on commercial drones.