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Politico: FAA May Adopt Gender-Neutral Drone Language

By Stephanie Beasley

The FAA has asked its drone advisory panel to explore moving away from words like “unmanned,” “manned,” “airman” and other gender-specific terms for drones as the agency and industry look to attract a more diverse and younger crop of people to the field.

The agency’s Drone Advisory Committee, whose members are mostly drawn from various parts of the drone industry, has been tasked with making recommendations on how the FAA and industry can shift to using gender-neutral language as has been done in other countries as well as at NASA. The U.S. space agency started using gender-neutral words in 2006.

Jay Merkle, who heads the FAA’s drone integration office, said during a recent DAC meeting that the agency would like to see the panel “take the lead in facilitating the adoption of gender-neutral language throughout the drone community” and “really in aviation in general.” Committee members have agreed to establish a task force to examine the issue.

FAA did not immediately respond to a request for more details on the initiative or whether it had been launched under the Biden administration or beforehand.

Industry on board: Several panel members — including the Air Line Pilots Association, Amazon, Drone Service Providers Alliance, National Air Traffic Controllers Association and Robotic Skies — said they supported the idea. Some have even pushed the FAA to go further with the effort and make the changes outside of the drone office and in existing regulations.

“I don’t think we want to encourage it. I think we want to demand it,” said David Carbon, vice president of Amazon Prime Air, during the meeting. “And to all the men out there that are rolling their eyes and saying ‘This is political correctness gone mad’ — It’s not.”

Carbon said not using non-gender-specific language means excluding women, who represent 52 percent of the world’s population. He and others also noted that such changes were being demanded by younger generations that might view the use of gender-specific words as an antiquated practice.

A broader conversation: Trish Gilbert, NATCA’s executive vice president, said the panel was displaying leadership by taking on the task and helping to move forward a conversation that also was happening within DOT’s women in aviation advisory board and internationally at ICAO.

“Well, you had me at ‘Hello’ on this one,” Gilbert said. “It is not a small thing. It may seem like that to some that have been in industry for quite a while. It really is a very important piece, I think.”

A spokesperson for the Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International told POLITICO that the group also separately is reexamining its use of “unmanned” and considering a name change, though nothing has yet been decided.

Next steps: Some panel members have pushed for FAA to take the initiative further and consider amending and updating regulations with any new language, which Merkle said was a possibility.

“My perspective is we want your recommendations and if one of your recommendations is go back and change the [code of federal regulations] we will consider that very seriously,” he said.

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