Sunday, February 5, 2012

FAA told to prep for more drones in U.S. skies

The final version of House Bill 658, also know as the FAA Reauthorization and Reform Act of 2011, has  cleared conference committee, received final passed in the House, and now awaits the Senate's final nod.

The first FAA reauthorization bill passed by the Congress in eight years includes a call for greater drone access to U.S. airspace.

Section 324 of the bill gives specific attention to government operated drones including a special provision for public safety mini-drones like those now used for surveillance by some agencies:

      (1) IN GENERAL- Not later than 90 days after the date of enactment of this Act, the Secretary shall enter into agreements with appropriate government agencies to simplify the process for issuing certificates of waiver or authorization with respect to applications seeking authorization to operate public unmanned aircraft systems in the national airspace system.
      (2) CONTENTS- The agreements shall--
        (A) with respect to an application described in paragraph (1)--
          (i) provide for an expedited review of the application;
          (ii) require a decision by the Administrator on approval or disapproval within 60 business days of the date of submission of the application; and
          (iii) allow for an expedited appeal if the application is disapproved;
        (B) allow for a one-time approval of similar operations carried out during a fixed period of time; and
        (C) allow a government public safety agency to operate unmanned aircraft weighing 4.4 pounds or less, within the line of sight of the operator, less than 400 feet above the ground during daylight conditions, within Class G airspace, outside of 5 statute miles from any airport, heliport, seaplane base or spaceport, or any location with aviation activities.

The Congressional order for the FAA to integrate more "unmanned aircraft" into air traffic over the U.S. coincides with an expanding drone fleet operated by the U.S. Department of Homeland SecuritySmaller mini-drones are becoming popular with some local law enforcement agencies. A FEMA sponsored website offers a product profile of one such drone. 

The military also has plans for more drones in U.S. skies. Secrecy News reported last month the Army issued a directive regarding its growing use of drones at home for training missions and "domestic operations."

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