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July 16, 2013

Public Unmanned Aerial Systems
COAs (Certificate of Authorization) are available to public entities that want to fly a UAS in civil airspace. Common uses today include law enforcement, fire fighting, border patrol, disaster relief, search and rescue, military training, and other government operational missions.   Note: These COA's are only given to Public Entities, not to civil operators.

There were 327 COAs active as of February 15, 2013

April 6, 2013

The city of Rancho Mirage, CA is voting next week on a proposal to ban Drones. Many other cities across the country are looking at similar bans. This particular ban is aimed squarely at the low altitude hobby drone. People are concerned about privacy, and they are worried these hobby drones will be flying over their back yards filming them, and looking in their windows. Currently, there are almost no restrictions on Drones. So little is known about Drones, these initial bans are sure to be (in some cases) incomplete, and in other cases, over reaching. Many of the hobbyists would agree that perhaps there should be some restrictions on flying your Drone directly over your neighbor’s house. However, a complete ban would be considered overkill by most people.  Just like a small radio controlled aircraft, a Drone should be allowed to fly over your own property or in a public park away from people on the ground. Legislators are busy at all levels of government working on restrictions not just for the hobby Drone, but for all types of Drones. Many states want to insure police departments obtain warrants before they start snooping with their new toys. Drones are now, and will be in the future, a huge industry. Countries that wish to be leaders in this industry, and reap the rewards of the financial tidal wave that is coming, need to be careful about the laws and restrictions they put in place.

March 8, 2013

This week we had our first report of a near-miss incident with a commercial aircraft and a Drone. An Alitalia airliner on approach to JFK airport reported the drone aircraft was just 200 feet away from his aircraft. The Drone would have been approximately 5 miles from the airport at 1500 feet above the ground. No evasive action was taken, or was necessary. Subsequent aircraft did not witness the Drone.
The Drone aircraft is suspected of being about 1 ½ and 2 feet across. Not a large Drone like we’re accustomed to hearing about in the news. We typically hear about large military attack drones. This Drone appears to be a small surveillance type of drone. It would have four to five sets of small rotor blades for lift.  A small sling at the bottom of the craft holds the camera. While it does not have a lot of mass, this type of craft could do a lot of damage to an aircraft if it were to go into an engine intake.
It would not always be easy to spot an aircraft of this size. A jet aircraft is traveling anywhere from 120 to 180 mph at this phase of the approach.  There is a lot going on at this point in the approach. One pilot is definitely looking outside, the other pilot is monitoring inside indications. A pilot needs to be watching a lot of things outside the aircraft: aircraft track and runway alignment, conflicting aircraft, ground obstacles, birds to name a few. A small object like this could easily blend in with the ground background. At 150 mph, going by something this small, happens in just a flash, “Wow, did you see that?”, “No, what?”. 
While this is the first time for a drone, it is not the first time pilots have reported odd things on final approach. Over the years, it has not been uncommon for pilots to report helium balloons, or even kites being flown near airports.  A kite report usually results in the local police being called to track down the offender. This person is usually easy to find… being that they are attached to the other end of the kite string. Unfortunately, it is not going to be as easy to find the person who was flying this drone.

February 22, 2013

4700 People Killed by US Drones

That's the number quoted by SC Senator Lindsey Graham this week. “We've killed 4,700,” the Senator said. “Sometimes you hit innocent people, and I hate that, but we're at war, and we've taken out some very senior members of al-Qaida.”

How accurate this number is, no one knows for sure. Different news sources each quote different numbers. 4700 is at the high end of those estimates.

February 15th, 2013

The FAA has announced plans to open Drone test sites around the US. The FAA is soliciting proposals for six different test sites. The test sites are designed to find out what exactly needs to be done for drones to co-habitat with standard US domestic air traffic. The two largest obstacles facing US domestic Drones is the privacy issue for people on the ground, and the collision issue with other aircraft or people/buildings on the ground.  The FAA has been slow to set a timetable for allowing domestic drone operations in the US.  The FAA is taking a cautious approach because this is all virgin territory. These test sites will help the agency find out what all the issues are facing domestic Drone integration.  
The FAA also posted a draft proposal plan for protecting people’s privacy.  The plan basically requires the Drone operators to follow federal and state laws.
Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood statement; "Our focus is on maintaining and improving the safety and efficiency of the world's largest aviation system. This research will give us valuable information about how best to ensure the safe introduction of this advanced technology into our nation's skies."

February 12, 2013

The U.S. Senate is debating what kind of action needs to be taken to get a handle on the (currently completely unregulated and unmonitored) foreign drone strikes.  The ability to “take out” or kill a known terrorist or enemy combatant via remote control from a distant land is new. This person could be in a war zone or they could be in a sovereign foreign country. What kind of framework should be in place to insure this power is used in an internationally acceptable and legal fashion?  Also, how do we insure this power is not abused?
The chairwoman of the Senate Intelligence Committee (Sen. Dianne Feinstein), said as part of an effort to regulate the killing, she wants to review proposals to create something similar to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court - which reviews requests for wiretaps against suspected foreign agents - for drone strikes.
Sen. Angus King believes the drone court would be an avenue for U.S. officials to argue in secret before a judge why an American citizen should be targeted for death. He said it would be like "going to a court for a warrant" and proving probable cause.

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