Secretary of Transportation Elaine Chao turned to a longtime if little known member of the Federal Aviation Administration’s Drone Advisory Committee to head the group, after last year’s quiet departure of founding chairman Brian Krzanich.
Effective May 15, Michael Chasen, CEO of commercial drone developer PrecisionHawk, took over as head of the committee, which advises the government on drone rules and includes a variety of points of view, from local government and public safety officials to pilots and insurers.
When Krzanich left Intel last year, the government also lost one of its top advisors and advocates on the future of commercial drones. Krzanich was both a professional and personal fan of the autonomous aircraft, plunging Intel headlong into the field and organizing dazzling drone spectacles at events like the Super Bowl and the Olympics. He had chaired the advisory committee since its founding in 2016.
But since leaving Intel last June, Krzanich’s new role, as CEO of car dealership software developer CDK Global, doesn’t have much to do with drones.
Chasen may be far more expert about the needs and wants of the drone industry, though he doesn’t run a $200 billion company with the accompanying marketing muscle and rolodex of contacts. But the 35-person panel will still include executives from other, larger companies including AT&T (T), Lockheed Martin (LMT), and American Airlines (AAL). Intel (INTC) will still have a seat as well, with Peter Cleveland, vice president of law and policy, as a member.
The committee has plenty on its agenda, as the FAA proposed new rules in January to further encourage commercial drone usage. Under the proposal, commercial drones could fly at night and over people without needing special waivers. At the time, Sec. Chao also said the government was working on rules to tighten safety regulations. This week, the FAA imposed tighter rules on recreational drone users.
Meanwhile, many industries are developing new uses for drones, from delivering medical supplies to inspecting remote utility towers to measuring crop yields in farmers’ fields. Dueling retail giants Amazon and Walmart have been exploring ways to use drones to make deliveries and move items around warehouses. At the same time, there has also been a rise in incidents of drones potentially threatening public safety at airports and sports stadiums.
New rules are needed to address both the opportunities and the threats, incoming chairman Chasen tells Fortune. “We have to make sure as a country that we have the right framework in place to handle exponential growth,” he says. Among the top challenges is protecting public safety, he adds.
Chasen declined to discuss what items he’d put at the top of the advisory committee’s agenda when it holds meetings next month, but made clear he sees room for extensive drone deployment.
“It’s not common yet that consumers look out the window and see drones,” he says. “That’s a few years away.”