A House committee advanced a pair of bipartisan bills that aim to better prepare the U.S. for more drones and futuristic aviation like flying taxis.
The House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee approved legislation (H.R. 5315) by 54-4 on Thursday that would create an infrastructure inspection grant program to fund drones that could help find cracks in bridges. Lawmakers also backed a bill (H.R. 6270) in a 55-2 vote that would provide grants to develop advanced air mobility infrastructure—where flying taxis would be able to land, for example.
The aviation industry has been lobbying for both grant programs, arguing that they would help more state agencies acquire drone technology to examine infrastructure and ready the country for future aviation technology. NASA said this week that it was working on solutions to the question of where air taxi vehicles will take off and land.
While dozens of fledgling aerospace enterprises are racing to bring flying taxis to market, attracting billions in investment, spending on so-called vertiports has lagged behind.
The committee-approved drone bill would provide $100 million for a grant program to grow the use of small drones for infrastructure projects and $100 million for training to use the technology. It has been touted by groups including the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, which sent a letter supporting the bill to lawmakers last month, and the National Association of State Aviation Officials.
“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,” Greg Pecoraro, NASAO’s president and CEO, said when the legislation was introduced.
The bill would offer a safer way to address a backlog of inspections and maintenance for bridges, Rep. Garret Graves (R-La.), a cosponsor of the bill, said at the markup. “Rather than having somebody roped up in a harness hanging off a bridge, we can get drones out there,” he said.
The panel also approved legislation to establish a $25 million pilot program to provide grants to plan for advanced air mobility infrastructure, such as vertiports, where air taxis could land. Companies working on flying taxis include Joby Aviation Inc., Archer Aviation Inc., and Beta Technologies Inc., while companies like Ferrovial Vertiports work on the ground infrastructure.
Rep. Rick Larsen (D-Wash.), chair of House Transportation and Infrastructure’s Aviation Subcommittee and sponsor of the aviation bill, said at a hearing last month that flying taxis are the next emerging technology. He urged lawmakers and the Federal Aviation Administration to prepare for advanced air mobility aircraft, touting the bill as a way to help communities plan.
“Congress must be forward-looking in dealing with the problems of today while also preparing for the problems of 2050,” Larsen said.
The National Business Aviation Association said the bill came as a result of the aviation industry’s advocacy and that the advanced air mobility industry has the potential to support almost 300,000 jobs and become a $115 billion annual market by 2035.