Category Archives: Drone Aircraft

Rise of the drones has police and regulators scrambling to catch up

Technology and mass production have made unmanned aircraft widely available but some say alarm at their use is exaggerated

Ed Pilkington (140×140)

Ed Pilkington in New York

The Guardian, Friday 1 August 2014 13.50 EDT

Wardens at Lee Correctional Institution in Bishopsville, South Carolina, were taken aback a few weeks ago when they conducted a routine sweep of the prison grounds. They discovered quantities of marijuana, cigarettes and cellphones scattered among the bushes in the no man’s land that surrounds the maximum-security institution.

The guards were even more astonished to find in the middle of the stash of contraband a small, lightweight object, with propellers attached. Closer inspection revealed the item to be an unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV), better known as a drone, whose operators had evidently made an audacious attempt to breach the prison walls that had come unstuck when it crash-landed.

Another day, another drone controversy. The failed smuggling attempt in Bishopsville, disclosed this week, is just one among an ever-intensifying rash of stories relating to the remote-controlled devices as they make their onward march into American civilian life.

The little buzzy planes seem to be everywhere these days. At the glamorous high-end of American public life they have been given a huge publicity boost by Amazon who last month applied for formal federal approval to set up a testing site to develop its futuristic idea of a drone delivery service called “Prime Air”.

You know that an innovation has arrived in the country when even Martha Stewart embraces it. The doyenne of good living this week wrote a paean to UAVs for Time magazine titled “Why I love my drone”.

At the mass market end of the spectrum, drones are also increasingly impinging on the public consciousness, often for unfortunate reasons. Pilots of passenger jets have complained that there have been near misses with drones, such as an incident in Florida in March at Tallahassee regional airport.

Even more sensationally, the New York police department last month claimed that a DJI Phantom drone had flown at 2,000 feet above the George Washington bridge and had forced a police helicopter to veer off course. The two operators of the UAV have been charged.

This plethora of headlines belies the fact that drones – or model aeroplanes as they used to be called – have been popular in the US since at least the 1930s. The fuel behind the current flurry of interest is that technology and mass production have suddenly brought relatively cheap and sophisticated machines within the grasp of the general public.

DJI Phantoms of the sort flown over the George Washington bridge sell on Amazon for under $500, and if you add to it a high-definition video camera it still comes in at just $1,300.

“Interest is exploding because you can put eight hundred dollars on a credit card and walk out of the store with a DJI Phantom, charge a battery and fly. The good news is that more and more people are getting involved. The bad news is that they include some who misuse the equipment or just don’t know any better,” said Steve Cohen, a drone enthusiast who organises the New York city drone user group.

A powerful driver of the new fad for flying drones is the high-definition video camera that can be attached to the UAVs. Many of the new enthusiasts pouring into the hobby are not coming for the thrills and challenges of aviation, but for the photography. The technology has opened up new vistas, such as the dramatic footage captured on 4 July by drones flying through Independence Day firework displays.

The results may be pretty, but it’s presenting the government regulator in charge of US airspace, the Federal Aviation Authority, with an almighty headache. The FAA has set itself the daunting challenge of working out how to merge drone use with commercial flights through some of the world’s most congested routes.

“The FAA is taking a deliberate, measured approach to integrating UAS [unmanned aircraft systems] technology into the country’s airspace. Our challenge is to integrate unmanned aircraft into the same airspace used by commercial aviation, general aviation and other new users, including commercial space vehicles,” an FAA spokesman told the Guardian in a statement.

The problem is that while America waits for the FAA to produce these new regulations – the latest expected date is the end of next year – confusion appears to be setting in. The legal environment is not keeping pace with the mushrooming use of the planes, or as Cohen put it: “We have just seen the equivalent of the model T Ford hit the road, and the horse-and-buggy regulators don’t know how to deal with it.”

As a holding mechanism, the agency has introduced a set of guidelines that restrict civilian hobbyists to flying under 400 feet and with drones that weigh no more than 55lbs, as well as forbidding the commercial use of the devices for profit.

But that in itself has spread confusion. In a series of recent court rulings, judges have rejected the FAA’s attempt to police drone use, saying that its current rules are merely guidelines that do not carry the weight of the law.

In a recent case in Texas, an appeals court this week overturned an FAA ban on the use of drones by a local group, Texas EquuSearch, that uses the planes to search for missing people in the great outdoors. The federal agency had served the non-profit group with a cease and desist order, claiming that its activities were a violation of the prohibition on commercial use, but the court disagreed.

Brendan Schulman, a leading legal expert on drones who represented EquuSearch in that case, said that by failing to come forward with clear legal parameters, the FAA was holding back the research and development of this crucial technology. “For about a decade, the FAA has engaged in a process of trying to come up with rules for these devices and yet its only answer still seems to be ‘No, don’t do it’. As a result, a huge group of responsible, talented people who could otherwise have made a difference have been alienated.”

Schulman added that the dangers of the devices was often exaggerated, for instance in the case of the George Washington bridge where there is evidence that the police helicopter flew towards the UAV rather than vice versa. “Perhaps because of the word ‘drone’ or the perception that this technology is new, there’s an instinct to fear the worst. But UAVs have been used for years, and when you look behind the reports you often find a different truth.”

FAA is behind schedule on UAVs.

The Federal Aviation Administration is “significantly behind schedule” in its attempt to meet Congress’ September 2015 deadline for integrating commercial drones into U.S. airspace, according to an audit report.

The report by the Department of Transportation’s Inspector General warns that the FAA will miss the deadline for adding drones, also known as Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS) to America’s National Airspace System (NAS).

“FAA’s delays are due to unresolved technological, regulatory, and privacy issues, which will prevent FAA from meeting Congress’ September 30, 2015, deadline for achieving safe UAS integration,” the report said. “As a result, while it is certain that FAA will accommodate UAS operations at limited locations, it is uncertain when and if full integration of UAS into the NAS will occur.”

The report said that the FAA has not reached consensus on technology standards to help drones detect and avoid other aircraft and maintain data links with ground stations. Auditors also found that the Administration has not set up a regulatory framework for drone integration and is not effectively collecting and analyzing drone safety data. The absence of procedures for sharing drone safety data with the Department of Defense, the largest user of drones, was also highlighted.

A law passed in 2012 aims to significantly increase commercial and law enforcement use of drones over the coming years. Questions, however, are being asked about the safety of the technology. A recent Washington Post investigation revealed that more than 400 large U.S. military drones have crashed in accidents around the world since 2001.

Last month, the National Park Service prohibited drones, citing noise and nuisance complaints, visitor safety concerns and an incident in which park wildlife were harassed.

The FAA appears to have its work cut out bringing this divisive technology to America’s skies.

“The FAA agrees with the DOT IG’s recommendations and will carefully consider them as the agency continues to move forward with UAS integration,” wrote an FAA spokesman, in an email to

The spokesman acknowledged the challenges of safely integrating drones into U.S. airspace, but said that the agency has made significant progress towards that goal. The FAA, he wrote, has helped ensure four of six UAS test sites are operational and has published a UAS roadmap that addresses current and future policies, regulations, technologies and procedures. The agency has also issued a Comprehensive Plan encompassing partner needs, and simplified the process that authorizes UAS flights.

He also pointed to a rule issued for model aircraft, a plan to expand drone use in the Arctic, and the FAA’s authorization of two commercial flights in the polar region. The agency is on track to issue a proposed rule for small UAS this year, he added.

Fox News

FAA Approves UAVs Over Land

The FAA issued a certificate of authorization (COA) to AeroVironment allowing the company to fly its Puma AE unmanned aircraft system (UAS) for energy company BP in Alaska, the first time the agency has approved a commercial UAS operation over land. The operation started on June 8, AeroVironment said.

In addition to announcing the FAA approval on June 10, AeroVironment said BP Exploration (Alaska) has awarded the company a five-year contract to provide mapping, geographic information system (GIS) and other services at its Prudhoe Bay oil field on Alaska’s North Slope. BP will use the hand-launched Puma AE, equipped with either a custom light detection and ranging (Lidar) pulsed laser system or standard electro-optical/infrared sensor payload to produce imagery and data used in generating 3D computerized models of roads, pads and pipelines. The data will also be used for “precision volumetric measurement and topographic analysis of gravel pits,” AeroVironment said.

In the FAA Modernization and Reform Act of 2012, Congress directed the FAA to designate permanent areas in the Arctic where small UAS can operate regularly for research and commercial purposes. Last July, the FAA awarded Part 21.25 restricted-category type certifications to the Puma AE and Insitu ScanEagle, permitting operators in Alaska to use them upon obtaining COAs. Insitu and energy company ConocoPhillips conducted the first commercial UAS flight over water on September 12, launching a ScanEagle from the research vessel Westward Wind in the Chukchi Sea off Alaska.

According to AeroVironment, BP issued a request for information on mapping services to GIS and both manned and unmanned aircraft systems companies in June 2013. BP invited AeroVironment to perform a proof-of-concept demonstration at Prudhoe Bay using the Puma AE, which it performed last September under a COA the FAA granted to the University of Alaska Fairbanks. The FAA said it recently modified the Puma’s restricted-category type certificate to allow operations over land “after AeroVironment showed that the Puma could perform such flights safely.”

“Thanks to the FAA’s rigorous, safety-focused certification process for UAS, BP and AeroVironment have launched a safer, better and more cost-effective solution for managing critical infrastructure and resources,” said Tim Conver, AeroVironment chairman and CEO. He added: “BP’s forward-thinking embrace of UAS technology enabled AeroVironment to deliver a comprehensive approach for generating, processing and converting data collected by portable UAS into actionable information that provides tangible economic and operational advantages.”

Separately, the FAA announced on June 9 that it has granted a COA to the state of Nevada authorizing UAS flights at its FAA-designated test range, the third of six ranges required by Congress under the 2012 legislation to begin operations. Nevada secured a two-year COA to fly the catapult-launched ScanEagle at Desert Rock Airport in Mercury, Nevada, a private airport the U.S. Department of Energy owns and operates.

FAA must move quickly on UAVs

Editorial: FAA Must Move Quicker on UAS Rules

A version of this article appears in the May 26 edition of Aviation Week & Space Technology.

The level of tension between the unmanned-aircraft community and the FAA over its ban on civil UAS was clear when the agency announced it will consider using special legislation to authorize limited commercial operations.

The statement at the industry’s biggest annual gathering, in Orlando, Fla., this month, was greeted with a mixture of elation, suspicion and derision: elation from those seeking safe integration of UAS into civil airspace, derision from those demanding immediate access to U.S. skies. And suspicion from both sides—those with experience with the FAA who doubt the regulator’s ability to deliver anything quickly, and those with no experience in aviation who question its legal right to regulate their activities. The FAA has the potential to disappoint all sides.

The legislation that gives the transportation secretary authority to approve UAS use limits it to operations that pose no hazard to other airspace users and the public. From making movies to spraying crops and inspecting pipelines and power lines to oil and gas flare stacks, operators are cueing up for early approvals. These are roles now performed by humans, helicopters and airplanes—sometimes at great risk. So the safety case for using UAS is solid. But the hundreds, possibly thousands, of would-be commercial operators champing at the bit will still have to wait for the FAA to grind through its rulemaking gears, which could take another two or more years.

Meanwhile, the agency’s interaction with a frustrated civil UAS community is limited to wagging a finger at unsafe operations, slapping cease-and-desist orders on “illegal” operators and fines on reckless fliers, and defending those bans and fines against legal challenges. All the while, the FAA hides in the labyrinth of rulemaking when asked important questions.

Under the law, the agency cannot engage in a meaningful discussion with UAS manufacturers, operators, the public and other interested parties until it has issued a notice of proposed rulemaking. But thousands of small drones—the word is appropriate here—are being sold over the counter, most for recreation but some for commercial use. The horse has left the stable. Now is not the time to bolt the barn and stand guard over an empty stall.

This stand-off is doing the FAA and UAS industry nothing but harm. We are at the beginning of a new era in aviation and the regulator is correct to want to get its rulemaking right the first time. But it is also a time for transparency: A new industry is being born, and it sees the FAA as an opaque, obstructive, bureaucratic dinosaur. This is not the way to begin a relationship that must endure for decades to come.

UAV’s in the Sky

CORPUS CHRISTI, Texas – At Texas A&M University in Corpus Christi, a helicopter drone hovers menacingly over a robot vehicle. The vehicle tries to evade the drone, turning right and left – surging forward and backward. Like an angry wasp, the drone swoops back and forth, staying directly in front of the robot – exactly one meter away, one meter off the ground.

And it does it all without a human at the controls. In fact, human hands can’t replicate what the drone did with such precision.

It’s all part of a series of complex experiments to determine whether drones can be safely integrated into already-crowded U.S. airspace, and what they might best be used for.

“I believe they’re going to be a big part of our future,” said university President Flavius Killebrew. “Maybe not in the way you see on some of the ads, but in ways that we haven’t even conceived of yet.”

The “ads” Killebrew refers to are “blue-sky” campaigns by Amazon, DHL and Domino’s pizza that envision a world where drones will deliver everything from DVDs to double-cheese stuffed crust. Complicated navigation in urban areas is years away, if even possible, Killebrew says. The more likely first application for drones, he says, will be in rural areas, far from buildings and people.

“Like pipelines,” he told Fox News. “You can fly a pipeline with sensors to determine if there are leaks.”

Texas A&M Corpus Christi is one of six test sites picked by the FAA to work out the details on putting commercial drones in the skies by 2016. One of the other test sites — in North Dakota – just received approval by the FAA to conduct experiments using drones to survey crops.

According to the FAA, there are some 7,000 commercial aircraft in the skies over the U.S. at any given moment. The challenge is how to integrate thousands of drones in the same space.

That’s a task Texas A&M researcher Luis Garcia is tackling in his laboratory. He programmed the drone that was chasing the robot vehicle.

“The technology is there,” Garcia told Fox News. He said it works well in the laboratory. His drone completes very complex tasks without any real-time input from humans. Outside in the real world is another matter, Garcia said. “The problem is – how are we going to coordinate all of these things in the air, you know? It’s not an easy task.”

Down the street, in the ICore computer lab, Ahmed Mahdy and his graduate students are exploring the complicated software programming that will steer drones here and there. One of his assistants, wearing a Google Glass, stands in front of a four-rotor drone. “Take off,” he says, and the drone faithfully jumps into the air. “Right”, “left,” he continues, and the drone follows his commands. He tilts his head one way and the other, and the drone responds. Then, in a remarkable maneuver, he says “flip” – and the drone somersaults. “Land”, he says, and the demonstration is over.

Mahdy is thrilled by the prospect of drones flying hither and yon, doing tasks too boring or too dangerous for humans.

“Hopefully, in our lifetime, every household will have a drone – a pet drone that can help you as an assistant. Go do chores for you,” he told Fox News.

Before that can happen, there are enormous hurdles to overcome. For starters, drones use civilian GPS as their primary guidance system. In the past, Fox News has revealed how other researchers have been able to commandeer GPS-based navigation systems and take ships off course. With thousands of drones flying around, could someone either jam or hack into their navigation system? Killebrew said that is a real possibility and a potential grave danger.

“If it was in a very populated area, obviously, if it’s a large drone and someone brings it down, it could cause a lot of damage or harm. And we certainly don’t want that to happen.”

Killebrew said changes may need to be made to the civilian GPS system to protect drones against attack. The military GPS is encrypted, but the system commercial drones will use isn’t.

“It’s important that we harden the system so they are safe to operate, and somebody can’t jam them or take them over,” Killebrew told Fox News.

Equally important is that U.S. laws keep up with the technology. Most drones are equipped with cameras and make a very effective tool for spying. Privacy issues are a big concern as the nation starts moving toward unmanned aerial vehicles, or UAVs.

The FAA wants the first commercial drones to start flying by 2016. The Texas A&M researchers say that’s a realistic time frame, but that the skies won’t suddenly be buzzing with swarms of drones. Like the cell phone revolution, it will start small and then build over time.

The integration of drones into U.S. airspace will no doubt be driven by dollars. Killebrew estimates drones will be an $8 billion business in Texas alone — $80 billion across the country. Researcher Luis Garcia agrees, pointing out that drones can do much of the same work as human-piloted aircraft for a fraction of the price.

He told Fox News, “If we manage to solve all of the issues concerning navigation – sense and avoid, control systems – then we’ll have a sky full of UAVs for sure.”

John Roberts joined Fox News Channel (FNC) in January 2011 as a senior national correspondent and is based in the Atlanta bureau.

FAA can not regulate UAVs?

Judge Rules Against FAA in ‘Landmark’ UAV Challenge
by  Bill Carey

NTSB judge dismissed the $10,000 fine the FAA levied against Raphael Pirker for flying the Ritewing Zephyr for hire. (Photo: Ritewing RC)

March 7, 2014, 10:08 AM

An administrative law judge with the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) dismissed the $10,000 fine the FAA levied against Raphael Pirker for flying a small unmanned aircraft, casting doubt on the agency’s ability to regulate their commercial use. In a decision dated March 6, NTSB Judge Patrick Geraghty found that the FAA has no regulations that apply to model aircraft or that classify a model aircraft as an unmanned aircraft system.

In response, the FAA said: “We are reviewing the decision.” The NTSB adjudicates appeals of FAA enforcement actions; the FAA can appeal the ruling to the NTSB.

The FAA fined Pirker, a Swiss citizen, for operating a Ritewing Zephyr at the University of Virginia in Charlottesville, Va., on Oct. 17, 2011. A marketing company had hired Pirker to supply aerial photographs and video of the UVA campus and medical center. Ritewing RC of Apache Junction, Ariz., produces the aircraft, which is described as an “electric flying wing” that weighs less than five pounds.

In an assessment order, the FAA said that Pirker flew the aircraft “in a careless or reckless manner” in violation of federal aviation regulations (FAR) Section 91.13(a). Further, the agency said he operated the flight for compensation. The FAA currently restricts the commercial use of UAVs.

Pirker sought to have the case dismissed “in the absence of a valid rule for application of FAR regulatory authority over model aircraft flight operations,” according to Geraghty’s finding. The law firm representing Pirker—Kramer Levin Naftalis & Frankel—has described the challenge as a landmark case, “the first federal case ever involving the operation of commercial drones in the United States.” In December, Kramer Levin said that it had formed a new unmanned aircraft systems practice group “in light of the increasing use of drones for commercial purposes…Kramer Levin’s new practice will provide sophisticated and creative problem-solving approaches in this uncharted legal territory.”

In his ruling dismissing the FAA’s fine, Geraghty said the FAA had no basis for asserting FAR Part 91 authority over Pirker’s operation, and that only advisory guidance applies to model aircraft. The FAA “has not issued an enforceable FAR regulatory rule governing model aircraft operation; (and) has historically exempted model aircraft from the statutory FAR definitions of ‘aircraft’ by relegating model aircraft operations to voluntary compliance with the guidance expressed in AC 91-57,” states a copy of the ruling provided to AIN.

In response to the judge’s ruling, Michael Toscano, president and CEO of the Association of Unmanned Vehicle Systems International issued the following written statement: “We are reviewing the decision very carefully and we have been in touch with the FAA to discuss its implications and the agency’s response. Our paramount concern is safety. We must ensure the commercial use of UAS takes place in a safe and responsible manner, whenever commercial use occurs. The decision also underscores the immediate need for a regulatory framework for small UAS.”

[Once an NTSB administrative law judge issues a decision, either the party that appealed the FAA’s enforcement action, the FAA itself, or both parties may appeal the decision to the five-member NTSB board. The appeal must be filed with the NTSB Office of Administrative Law Judges within 10 days of the date of the written decision. The party filing an appeal then has 30 days from date of the decision to file an appeal brief with the NTSB Office of General Counsel. The opposing party has 30 days from the date of the appeal brief to file a reply brief. “Once both parties have filed briefs, the full NTSB board will consider the case and issue an opinion and order. After the full board issues its decision, either party may appeal that decision to a United States Court of Appeals within 60 days of the board’s decision,” the NTSB said, responding to an AIN query. —BC]

FAA risks losing drone war

Thanks to falling prices, spotty enforcement and the fact that it’s almost impossible to spot the devices being used, the FAA is often powerless to halt the growing drone swarm. Retailers freely sell the tiny planes, quadcopters and hexacopters for as little as a few hundred dollars, and entrepreneurs continually come up with creative uses like wedding photography and crop monitoring — along with delivering beer and dropping off dry-cleaning.

The result, observers and drone users warn, could be a Wild, Wild West in the nation’s skies. As small drone operators grow used to flying them without the FAA’s permission, they could become less inclined to obey any rules the agency puts in place. And with the cost of the technology continuing to drop, the drones could eventually become far too ubiquitous for the agency to police.

Meanwhile, the FAA is lagging in meeting a congressional mandate to allow commercial drones to share the skies legally.

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“Most people want to comply with the FAA rules,” said Ted Ellett, a former FAA general counsel who is now a partner specializing in aviation at the law firm Hogan Levells. “But the more the FAA acts like a big daddy, behemoth government agency that is imposing excessive restrictions, the more the feeling of ‘I’m an American, they can’t tell me what to do’ kicks in. And that’s a real danger for the FAA.”

Plenty of drone users are going ahead without waiting for the agency.

“A lot of our members would like to start businesses using this technology,” said Timothy Reuter, the founder of the Drone User Group Network in Washington. “Some of them are waiting for the regulations to open up. Others, honestly, aren’t.”

The FAA says it’s committed to ensuring that its drone regulations protect public safety.

“The rulemaking process is deliberative and comprehensive,” the agency said in a statement Friday that referred to drones by the FAA’s preferred term, “Unmanned Aircraft Systems.”

(Also on POLITICO: Full technology policy coverage)

“Because UAS is an emerging technology, we want to ensure that we get it right and that we do not increase risk in the world’s safest aviation system,” the FAA added. “We expect to publish the small UAS proposed rule for public comment later this year.”

The agency probably will eventually issue two rules: one for drones less than 55 pounds, which are likely to fly under 400 feet, and one for heavier drones, which are likely to share airspace with manned aircraft.

Most of the explosion in drone use has come with the cheaper small drones, which typically remain in sight of the operator the entire time they’re in flight. The larger drones, which can resemble the military’s famous Predators, often require an airfield to take off and aren’t typically owned by individuals.

It’s not clear exactly what regulations the FAA will propose. The agency could require drone operators to register, pay fees or go through safety training. It could also place restrictions on drone use for safety reasons.

(Also on POLITICO: Dianne Feinstein spots drone inches from face)

But in the meantime, the FAA is sticking to the stance it’s held since 2007 — that using drones for commercial purposes is illegal.

The agency said it has sent out 12 warning letters to drone operators but also handles incidents with verbal warnings. In one case, the agency issued a $10,000 fine to a Swiss drone operator who it said was operating “recklessly” when flying at the University of Virginia in 2011. The case is under appeal and is before a National Transportation Safety Board administrative court.

While a 2010 law set a September 2015 date for the FAA to safely allow commercial drone flights, the Transportation Department’s inspector general told a House panel this month that it’s unlikely the agency would meet the deadline. (The FAA has approved one use of commercial drones: ConocoPhillips is using a large drone in the Arctic to monitor icebergs.)

Read more:

Amazon Prime Air

Online retailer Amazon announced Sunday that it is planning a new delivery service in which products would be delivered with the use of unmanned drones.

Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos unveiled the so-called “Octocopters” in an interview that aired Sunday on CBS “60 Minutes,” and claimed that the drones would not be ready to take flight for another four or five years. However, after the interview aired, Amazon released a statement promising that “Prime Air vehicles will be as normal as seeing mail trucks on the road today.”

“I know this looks like science fiction. It’s not,” Bezos said in the CBS interview with Charlie Rose. “It drops the package. You come and get your package and we can do half-hour deliveries.”

Federal Aviation Administration regulations currently prohibit the kind of flights Bezos proposes that Prime Air octocopters undertake. However, rule changes could come as early as 2015.

Bezos said that the vehicles currently being tested have a range of ten miles and can carry products under five pounds, which he estimates make up 86 percent of Amazon’s inventory.

In urban areas, you could actually cover very significant portions of the population,” Bezos said.  “This is all electric, it’s very green, it’s better than driving trucks around.”

The CEO also admitted that the drones required more safety testing, noting “This thing can’t land on somebody’s head while they’re walking around their neighborhood.

UAV Access

US authorities have presented a plan for the mass use of drones in American airspace. Though there have been few objections to the move so far, a global government surveillance drone program is likely to raise privacy concerns later on.

The US Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has presented a detailed plan for drones to roam across American skies within the next two years.

The plan sets September 2015 as a deadline for integrating UAVs into US airspace, and six possible drone test sites will be selected out of 26 proposed ones by the end of 2013.

The move has been continuously lobbied by the trade group Aerospace Industries Association, which expects great demand for civilian-use drones, including for agriculture, firefighting, weather forecast and tracking wildlife.

Within the next five years, after appropriate regulations are introduced, whole 7,500 small UAVs will be operating in US airspace, FAA Administrator Michael Huerta said at an aerospace news conference in Washington on Thursday.

Huerta outlined the ultimate goal of the American drone industry: global leadership that could enable the US to set standards for the industry worldwide.

“We recognize that the expanding use of unmanned aircraft presents great opportunities, but it’s also true that integrating these aircraft presents significant challenges,” Reuters quoted Huerta as saying. He added that US aviation regulations and safety rules would remain a “gold standard” for the rest of the world “to maintain our position of global leadership.”

“We have operational goals and safety issues we need to consider as we expand the use of unmanned aircraft,” Huerta said.

At the same news conference, AIA President Marion Blakey promised that UAVs would bring an “enormity of benefits” to American society and that unmanned aircraft represent “America’s next great aviation frontier.”

According to industry forecaster Teal Group, the estimated $6.6 billion spent worldwide on drone research and development in 2013 will grow to $11.4 billion in 2022, AP reported.

True beneficiaries of drones used in America

The move to use drones widely inside the US had been long expected after drones were introduced into the US Army.

Drones have some clear advantages over fixed surveillance cameras on lampposts and at other locations, as they require the video streams from CCTVs to be processed. For instance, drones can always be focused on the desired objects at the operators’ will at any given time, and drones are cost-effective mobile tools in America’s vast low-rise suburbia.

The FAA previously claimed it has no interest in letting weaponized UAVs, like the missile-equipped Predator, into US airspace anytime soon.

So far nobody is talking about armed UAVs prowling US city skylines, but officials’ ideas about drone data retention has alarmed privacy advocates in the country.

Huerta shared some interesting statistics on who is using drones in the US the most. He mentioned that apart from synoptics, environmental specialists and educational institutions, there are about 80 law enforcement agencies that operate small size surveillance drones, with the FAA granting each of them public use waivers on a case-by-case basis.

“If we’re going to take full advantage of the benefits that we’re talking about from these technologies, we need to be responsive to public concerns about privacy,” Huerta said.

Reportedly, not only the FAA, but also Pentagon, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and the Department of justice are taking part in a multi-agency group that has also released a comprehensive plan accelerating integration of UAVs into US national airspace. All data gathered by the six test sites will go straight to that interagency group, Huerta said.

The test drone sites will have to comply with federal and state privacy laws, account for collected data and present annual reviews on privacy practices, Huerta said.

“It’s crucial that as we move forward with drone use, those procedural protections are followed by concrete restrictions on how data from drones can be used and how long it can be stored,” said Christopher Calabrese, legislative counsel for the American Civil Liberties Union.

Riolo Law
“Aviation is our Passion”

Insitu to Launch First Commercial Unmanned Aircraft

Insitu is planning to launch the first U.S. commercial unmanned aircraft system operation following receipt of FAA type certification for its ScanEagle UAS on July 19. No details are available yet, but the operation is expected to be in the Arctic.

Restricted-category type certifications for the 44-lb., gasoline-powered ScanEagle and the 13.4-lb., battery-powered AeroVironment Puma AE are the first to be issued by FAA under Part 21.25 of the federal aviation regulations.

“Type certification allows us to go beyond the norm, which is a UAS operating under a certificate of authorization as a public aircraft, and is the basis for commercial operations,” says Paul McDuffee, vice president of government relations and strategy for Insitu, a Boeing subsidiary.

The AeroVironment Puma and Insitu ScanEagle were selected as pathfinder programs for restricted-category certification under FAA’s existing Part 21.25 rules. Insitu submitted its application in January, and the process went “astoundingly fast,” he says.

“To the FAA’s credit, they have been really willing to work with industry to come up with solutions for adopting and adapting regulations intended for manned aircraft and applying them to unmanned,” McDuffee says. “It has been very cooperative.”

Restricted category allows type certification of an airframe for a specific purpose, in this case aerial surveillance. Key to the process is a “carve out” in Part 21.25 for certification of systems previously accepted for use by the Defense Department, which applies to both the Puma and ScanEagle.

“The aircraft certificated must be in the configuration accepted by the Defense Department, so carefully maintaining the configuration is key,” he says. “ScanEagle has to be certified as is, to be transferred to commercial use as used by the military customer.”

In addition to type certification, the FAA has awarded Insitu operational approval for the commercial operation planned, which involves flights “beyond visual line of sight,” McDuffee says, to be conducted as a service by Insitu in behalf of an unnamed customer.

The first commercial UAS operation is not being revealed yet, but both the ScanEagle and Puma certificates include in the flight limitation: “Only for operation in the designated Arctic area as defined by the FAA Modernization and Reform Act of 2012.”

Under the Act, Congress directed the FAA to develop an Arctic UAS operation plan and designate permanent areas where small unmanned aircraft may operate 24 hr. a day for research and commercial purposes.

ScanEagle operations will take place “in a very remote location,” McDuffee says. “That is the key to risk mitigation. We will be operating [in] a block of airspace that is essentially sterile, where the likelihood of an encounter with an uncooperative aircraft is zero.”

The final step that remains, “just prior to commercial operations,” McDuffee says, is for the FAA to issue an airworthiness certificate for the complete ScanEagle system, including air vehicle, ground control station and launch and recovery equipment.

“Once it is complete and in one place, the FAA will take a look at the system to certify it is airworthy,” he says. The date for that final approval step still has to be determined, but will be “sometime between now and 1 October.”