UNMANNED AIRCRAFT: FAA Releases Initial Plan for Drone Flights in U.S. Skies

November 8, 2013 at 12:00 am 1 comment

FAA Roadmap

The U.S. military has flown thousands of drones like this hand-launched U.S. Army RQ-11, but commercial use is restricted in U.S. airspace  (Army photo  by Spc. Michael J. MacLeod, U.S. Army)

The U.S. military has flown thousands of drones like this hand-launched U.S. Army RQ-11, but commercial use is restricted in U.S. airspace
(Army photo by Spc. Michael J. MacLeod, U.S. Army)

The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) released its initial plans Thursday (November 7) for gradually integrating unmanned aircraft into the national airspace of the United States.

The FAA, an agency of the Transportation Department, has been studying unmanned aircraft — also known as unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) or simply drones — for years, trying to figure how to let aircraft without a pilot on board make their way into a domain already crowded with commercial airliners, private planes and jets, military aircraft, skyscrapers, bridges, radio towers, power lines and stormy weather.

As an early step in that process — expected to take 15 years — the FAA issued its first annual Roadmap outlining the steps needed to integrate unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) into the nation’s airspace. The roadmap addresses current and future policies, regulations, technologies and procedures “that will be required as demand moves the country from today’s limited accommodation of UAS operations to the extensive integration of UAS” into national airspace in the future, according to an FAA statement that accompanied release of the 71-page roadmap that tackles such issues as operator training, air traffic control challenges and national security issues. The FAA also released the 26-page UAS Comprehensive Plan to safely accelerate working civil UAS into the nation’s airspace system.

While the military has made extensive use of drones for reconnaissance, surveillance and attack over the last dozen years, UAS are strictly limited in their operations in U.S. airspace. Research institutions, government agencies and law enforcement must first obtain a waiver, known as a certificate of authorization — which allows, but sharply restricts the areas where non-military UAS flights can take place. The agriculture, energy and scientific communities already have developed numerous uses for UAS, but are limited in their use by the FAA — as are local police and fire/emergency departments.

Drones large and small on display at the August AUVSI Expo in Washington. (4GWAR photo by John M. Doyle)

Drones large and small on display at the August AUVSI Expo in Washington. (4GWAR photo by John M. Doyle)

Other groups, however, have voiced privacy and civil liberties concerns about widespread use of drones — large and small — in U.S. skies, especially by law enforcement agencies.

The Associated of Unmanned Vehicle Systems International (AUVSI), the main industry group, estimates that  UAS technology will create more than 100,000 jobs and generate more than $82 billion in economic impact in the first 10 years after drones are integrated into the national airspace.

Full disclosure: 4GWAR editor John M. Doyle writes freelance articles for AUVSI’s Unmanned Systems magazine.

 

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Entry filed under: Aircraft, Homeland Security, National Security and Defense, News Developments, Skills and Training, Technology, Unmanned Aircraft, Weaponry and Equipment. Tags: , , , , , , , , .

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