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Why should you be worried about domestic drones?
The term, “Domestic Drone” covers a wide variety of vehicles. The term refers to just about anything flying in the air without a pilot. This could be your neighbor operating a very small and quiet helicopter with a video camera, or the Feds operating a very, very small birdlike verticopter with flapping wings… and a video camera. Or, it could be larger drones carrying packages across the country, pipeline patrol drones, and traffic monitoring drones.
The two things the average citizen should be worried about are; personal privacy, and safety onboard a commercial or private aircraft.
In the news today we hear a lot about the privacy issue. An airplane takes off from an airport and it flies over your house. It does not need your permission, and it is not trespassing, even though it is flying over your land. What happens when an unmanned aircraft flies over your home, and hovers with a video camera… a high definition camera that records you sunbathing in the backyard? What if your peeking tom neighbor gets on Ebay and buys a radio controlled helicopter with a video camera, and then he spends his evening floating up and down the streets looking into upstairs windows?
We have only just started to understand the capabilities of this technology and all the ways it may be used. Laws will have to be developed, tried and tested to handle drone privacy issues.

Is the bigger issue, Drone and Aircraft Collisions? While it doesn’t get a lot of press, collision avoidance is one of the largest hurdles for the FAA to overcome. Medium size birds have brought down some very large aircraft. A bird may not have a lot of mass, but with enough velocity (fast moving aircraft) it can carry a lot of energy that can severely damage an aircraft, especially if the bird ends up in a critical place like an engine intake. The current drones that are on the drawing board for surveillance and pipeline patrol etc… are much larger and heavier than a bird. A collision between an occupied flying aircraft and a drone could be catastrophic, and all steps must be taken to insure this does not occur.
Basics of how our airspace system works. We have controlled airspace and un-controlled airspace over the US. The term “controlled” is confusing because often an aircraft that is being controlled is in uncontrolled airspace and visa-versa. Some controlled airspace will have no radar coverage (ability for the controller to see the controlled aircraft). The term controlled or un-controlled airspace refers to the rules that pilots must follow when in those different airspaces. An airliner could be in the clouds flying an approach to an airport with no forward visibility, and all the while have no approach radar monitoring the aircraft or looking for conflicting traffic. In this case, separation from other aircraft is achieved solely by rules. Other piloted aircraft know they are not allowed to be in that airspace without the proper clearance. If a careless pilot decided to takeoff and fly in that same airspace there would be no protection against a midair collision. Fortunately, this does not happen, the system works. Harmony is maintained by a set of rules that change depending on where an aircraft is, what kind of flight plan it is on. The rules get more stringent, the requirements and qualifications of the pilot and aircraft get higher the closer you get to major airports, and the higher you go. The system is only partially monitored. Again, more monitoring takes place the higher you go and the closer you get to major airports.
What this airspace lesson is meant to show is that there is a lot of airspace that is loosely controlled and the introduction of flying vehicles (with no pilot looking out the window) could upset this harmony. Even with radar traffic monitoring, small drones will most likely not be detectable. Some might say there needs to be an entire set of rules and regulations developed. Drone certification, system requirements, inspection requirements, drone pilot certification, recurrent training and testing requirements, and then flight regulations and guidelines. Currently, there is zero!

Everyone should be aware that there is a lot of drone activity today. Police departments are using drones to watch bad guys and your neighbors are flying FPV radio controlled airplanes from the living room. The FAA has already issued over 1400 drone operation permits… and remember, the guy next door doesn’t need (or get) a permit. Congress has given the FAA until September 2015 to open up US airspace to drone traffic. When that finally happens, the FAA estimates there will be 10,000 drones operating over the US within 5 years. What are the chances that any day we could see our first collision between a drone and an occupied aircraft?

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