FAA is undergoing some leadership changes. They recently announced that Jay Merkle will be the new head of drone integration, replacing Earl Lawrence. FAA is still working under Acting Administrator Dan Elwell – who, as we reported last month, has withdrawn his application to hold the top job permanently. As FAA gears up to address the numerous drone related provisions included in FAA Reauthorization, new leaders like Merkle will have a big – and important – job ahead.
“UAS Integration” is an important issue for the drone industry. Until drones are integrated fully into the airspace, through a complex combination of regulation development; technology tools to allow communication between air traffic control and drone operators; technology to ensure safe and predictable deconfliction strategies, which is a fancy way for saying making sure the drones don’t run into each other or anybody else; full industry adoption won’t scale to full potential.
The following is an FAA Press release.
The U.S. Department of Transportation’s Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) today announced Earl Lawrence’s promotion to the Agency’s Executive Director for Aircraft Certification. Lawrence was previously Executive Director for the FAA’s Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS) Integration Office. He succeeds Dorenda Baker, who retired Nov. 30 after a distinguished aviation safety career.
Jay Merkle, Deputy Vice President for the FAA Air Traffic Organization’s Program Management Office, will become the new head of UAS Integration. The appointments are effective Dec. 9, and both executives will report to FAA Associate Administrator for Aviation Safety Ali Bahrami.
“As longstanding FAA advocates for safety, Earl Lawrence and Jay Merkle are the right selections at a critical time for emerging aviation technologies,” said FAA Acting Administrator Dan Elwell. “Their extensive experience will help ensure a safe transition as these new technologies mature and enter our country’s national airspace.”
Lawrence is a veteran aviator with extensive aviation and leadership experience. Prior to managing the UAS Integration Office, Lawrence was Director of the FAA Small Airplane Directorate and was responsible for 17 aircraft certification and manufacturing district offices in 21 states. Before coming to the FAA in 2010, he served as Vice President for Industry and Regulatory Affairs at the Experimental Aircraft Association.
Merkle has more than 25 years of engineering and program management experience in both the FAA and the defense industry. In his previous position within the Air Traffic Organization, Merkle supported the UAS Integration Office and was an architect of the Low Altitude Authorization and Notification Capability (LAANC) program. Prior to that, Merkle was a key manager in the FAA’s NextGen Air Transportation System Office.
The Aircraft Certification Service is the second largest Aviation Safety Organization, employing more than 1,300 people. Aircraft Certification Service offices are located across the United States, with international offices in Singapore and Belgium. Aircraft Certification is responsible for design and manufacturing approvals, along with the continued operational safety of all aviation products in the United States.
The Unmanned Aircraft Systems Integration Office coordinates the development of regulations, policies, programs, and procedures to enable the safe integration of UAS into the National Airspace System.