7,500 Drones to Invade Skies Over America

Image: 7,500 Drones to Invade Skies Over America

Friday, 08 Nov 2013 01:59 PM

By Melissa Clyne

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Within five years, commercial airliners will be sharing the friendly skies with thousands of drones — unmanned aerial vehicles, the Federal Aviation Administration says.

In a 74-page document, the agency unveils its long-awaited "Unmanned Aircraft Systems Integration Roadmap" outlining the FAA plan to integrate drones into the nation’s increasingly crowded airspace.

FAA Chief Michael Huerta estimates that 7,500 commercial drones could be airborne within the next five years. He said the agency is formulating policies, procedures, and safeguards to integrate unmanned aircraft, commonly known as drones, while drafting policy requiring test site operators to comply with federal, state, and other laws on individual privacy protection.

"We have operational goals and safety issues we need to consider as we expand the use of unmanned aircraft," Huerta said at a Washington aerospace conference Thursday.

A final "privacy policy" has been sent to the Federal Register, the federal government’s official journal, containing routine publications and policies of government agencies.

Protecting privacy rights is of great concern to many privacy advocates.

"They seem to have recognized the necessity of addressing privacy and civil liberties in integrating drones — even commercial use of drones," Ryan Calo, assistant professor of law at the University of Washington, told NBC News.

By early 2014, six congressionally mandated test sites will be chosen to begin researching how to safely and seamlessly integrate drones into the national airspace as well as establish certification and navigation requirements.

Twenty-five applicants from 24 states — including Florida, Texas, Ohio, and California — are vying for the spots, The Washington Post reports.

The FAA already has many agreements in place with drone operators, including 80 law enforcement agencies, according to the Los Angeles Times. Universities are testing drones for things like weather forecasting and agricultural uses. Businesses and hobbyists also have an interest in remotely piloted aircraft.

A drone navigates surreptitiously, without a human pilot on board, and is beyond the line of sight. Though military drones conduct surveillance and missile strikes the same technology has the potential for numerous uses domestically, such as responding to natural disasters and locating missing persons, Michael Toscano, president of the Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International, told The Washington Post.

Toscano’s organization predicts integrating unmanned aerial systems will have an $82 billion impact on the economy.

While the roadmap is a huge mark of progress in the unmanned aircraft community, the FAA warns it will be a fluid system due to advancing technology and planned improvements in airspace occur over the next 15 years.

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