Currently drone aircraft are being used by
In addition to their use in a variety of federal law-enforcement and security functions, drones have been proposed for use by weather researchers tracking tornadoes and other storms, by energy companies who want to use them to monitor oil and gas pipelines, and by local and state police, who think they would come in handy to chase criminals and spy on suspects. Additionally, the U.S. Coast Guard has said that drones would be ideal for search-and-rescue operations.
While the FAA has been working for several years on plans to allow drones to fly in
Responding to charges from other federal agencies that his department is dragging its feet in allowing the domestic use of the unmanned craft, Hank Krakowski, FAA’s head of air-traffic operations, told the Associated Press, “I think industry and some of the operators are frustrated that we’re not moving fast enough, but safety is first.”
The biggest concern among FAA officials is the potential for the unmanned craft, which can be as small as a backpack or as large as a small commercial airliner, to collide with commercial passenger jets, cargo planes, or corporate aircraft that fly at high altitudes, or with helicopters, single engine planes, and even hot air balloons that fly from hundreds to a few thousand feet in the air. “This isn’t
The FAA has also expressed its concern that those who remotely pilot the drones can lose communication with the craft, and that drones flying at lower altitudes away from major cities and airports may collide with planes in the area that are not required to have collision warning systems or even transponders. In these areas, simply seeing and avoiding another plane is the major accident prevention method.
In 2008, the National Transportation Safety Board convened a forum to discuss potential safety concerns following the crash of a Predator being used for border patrol in
As the FAA teams up with Insitu, Inc., a Boeing subsidiary that manufactures drones, to conduct a long-term study aimed at addressing drone safety concerns, a report by the Government Accountability Office noted that no technology has yet been identified “as a suitable substitute for a person on board the aircraft in seeing and avoiding other aircraft.” The report stated that the communication and control links on drone craft “are vulnerable to unintentional or intentional radio interference that can lead to loss of control of an aircraft and an accident.” The report predicted that it could take another 20 years for all safety concerns to be fully addressed.
One issue that seems to have been overlooked in the debate over the domestic use of drones is the potential for government not only to use drones to protect borders and chase drug dealers, but to spy on whoever it wants whenever it wants — including law-abiding citizens. On March 29, 2006, Declan McCullagh reported on cnet.com: “In a scene that could have been inspired by the movie Minority Report, one
More recently, a United Press International story last January reported that drones developed by the British military are set to be used in the
While one might applaud the use of drones to protect
If not, there may be a spy in the sky taking note.
Photo: AP Images