Congress Calls for Accelerated Use of Drones in U.S.

Aurora 2012/02/04 14:44:05

February 3rd, 2012 by Steven Aftergood

A House-Senate conference report
this week called on the Administration to accelerate the use of
civilian unmanned aerial systems (UAS), or “drones,” in U.S. airspace.

The pending authorization bill
for the Federal Aviation Administration directs the Secretary of
Transporation to develop within nine months “a comprehensive plan to
safely accelerate the integration of civil unmanned aircraft systems
into the national airspace system.”

“The plan… shall provide for the safe integration of civil unmanned
aircraft systems into the national airspace system as soon as
practicable, but not later than September 30, 2015.”

The conference bill, which still awaits final passage, also calls for
establishment of UAS test ranges in cooperation with NASA and the
Department of Defense, expanded use of UAS in the Arctic region,
development of guidance for the operation of public unmanned aircraft
systems, and new safety research to assess the risk of “catastrophic
failure of the unmanned aircraft that would endanger other aircraft in
the national airspace system.”

The Department of Defense is pursuing its own domestic UAS activities
for training purposes and “domestic operations,” according to a 2007
DoD-FAA memorandum of agreement. (“Army Foresees Expanded Use of Drones in U.S. Airspace,” Secrecy News, January 19, 2012.)

Update: In the recently enacted FY2012 National
Defense Authorization Act (section 1097), Congress mandated that “the
Administrator of the Federal Aviation Administration shall establish a
program to integrate unmanned aircraft systems into the national
airspace system at six test ranges.” This new test range program is
supposed to be established within 180 days.

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