The FAA is expected this year to propose new rules for smaller unmanned aircraft, a process that will include input from the public, says FAA spokesman Les Dorr. The agency also is talking with the Justice Department and national law enforcement groups "about possibly trying to streamline the process of applying for certificates of authorization" to operate such planes, he says.
The FAA authorized the Physical Science Laboratory at New Mexico State University to research the issues involved. "We're extremely interested in being able to pave the way to integrate unmanned aircraft into the civil airspace," says Doug Davis, deputy director of the Technical Analysis and Applications Center at NMSU.That's not to say such drones aven't been tested, or even employed within the confines of the U.S. on police business.
One of the chief obstacles to widespread use of UAVs is their inability to "see and avoid" other aircraft as required by federal regulations, a key to flight safety. Davis says he believes operators on the ground can comply with federal rules if they can see the aircraft and the surrounding environment.
As Copeland notes...
Drones have flown in the USA for several years but have been limited to restricted airspace and to portions of the borders with Canada and Mexico.
The Miami-Dade Police Department has tested two 18-pound UAVs equipped with a camera for about 18 months, Sgt. Andrew Cohen says. The department has been licensed to operate the craft up to 200 feet in the air, but the drone must remain within 1,000 feet of the operator.Moreover, Brian Bennett of the L.A. Times' Washington Bureau reported that in June of last year, police in North Dakota's Nelson County "made the first known arrests of U.S. citizens with help from a Predator [B]", one of two such UAV's which are based at Grand Forks Air Force Base and which, according to Bennett, had flown two dozen surveillance missions since June .
Whose drones are they, and what are they doing in North Dakota ? Glad you asked.
The drones belong to U.S. Customs and Border Protection, which operates eight Predators on the country's northern and southwestern borders to search for illegal immigrants and smugglers. The previously unreported use of its drones to assist local, state and federal law enforcement has occurred without any public acknowledgment or debate.
Congress first authorized Customs and Border Protection to buy unarmed Predators in 2005. Officials in charge of the fleet cite broad authority to work with police from budget requests to Congress that cite "interior law enforcement support" as part of their mission.
In an interview, Michael C. Kostelnik, a retired Air Force general who heads the office that supervises the drones, said Predators are flown "in many areas around the country, not only for federal operators, but also for state and local law enforcement and emergency responders in times of crisis."
But former Rep. Jane Harman (D-Venice), who sat on the House homeland security intelligence subcommittee at the time and served as its chairwoman from 2007 until early this year, said no one ever discussed using Predators to help local police serve warrants or do other basic work.
Using Predators for routine law enforcement without public debate or clear legal authority is a mistake, Harman said.
"There is no question that this could become something that people will regret," said Harman, who resigned from the House in February and now heads the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, a Washington think tank.
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