November 08, 2013
US authorities have presented a plan for the
mass use of drones in American airspace. Though there have been few
objections to the move so far, a global government surveillance drone
program is likely to raise privacy concerns later on.
The US Federal Aviation Administration (FAA)
has presented a detailed plan for drones to roam across American skies
within the next two years.
The plan sets September 2015 as a deadline for integrating
UAVs into US airspace, and six possible
drone test sites will be selected out of 26 proposed ones by the end of
The move has been continuously lobbied by the trade group Aerospace
Industries Association (AIA),
which expects great demand for civilian-use drones, including for
agriculture, firefighting, weather forecast and tracking wildlife.
Within the next five years, after appropriate regulations are introduced,
whole 7,500 small UAVs will be operating in US airspace, FAA Administrator
Michael Huerta said at an aerospace news conference in Washington on
Huerta outlined the ultimate goal of the American drone industry: global
leadership that could enable the US to set standards for the industry
"We recognize that the expanding use of
unmanned aircraft presents great opportunities, but it's also true that
integrating these aircraft presents significant challenges," Reuters
quoted Huerta as saying.
He added that US aviation regulations and safety
rules would remain a “gold standard” for the rest of the world,
“to maintain our position of global
“We have operational goals and safety issues we need to consider as we
expand the use of unmanned aircraft,” Huerta said.
At the same news conference, AIA President
Marion Blakey promised that UAVs would bring an “enormity of
benefits” to American society and that unmanned aircraft
represent “America's next great aviation frontier.”
According to industry forecaster
Teal Group, the estimated $6.6 billion spent worldwide on drone
research and development in 2013 will grow to $11.4 billion in 2022, AP
True beneficiaries of drones
used in America
The move to use drones widely inside the US had been long expected
after drones were introduced into the US Army.
Drones have some clear advantages over fixed surveillance cameras on
lampposts and at other locations, as they require the video streams from
CCTVs to be processed. For instance, drones can always be focused on the
desired objects at the operators’ will at any given time, and drones are
cost-effective mobile tools in America’s vast low-rise suburbia.
previously claimed it has no interest in
letting weaponized UAVs, like the missile-equipped Predator, into US
airspace anytime soon.
So far nobody is talking about armed UAVs prowling US city skylines, but
officials’ ideas about drone data retention has alarmed privacy advocates in
Huerta shared some interesting statistics on who is using drones in the US
He mentioned that apart from synoptics,
environmental specialists and educational institutions, there are about 80
law enforcement agencies that operate small size surveillance drones, with
the FAA granting each of them public use waivers on a case-by-case basis.
“If we’re going to take full advantage of
the benefits that we’re talking about from these technologies, we need
to be responsive to public concerns about privacy,” Huerta said.
Reportedly, not only the FAA, but also Pentagon,
the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and the Department of justice are
taking part in a multi-agency group that has also released a comprehensive
plan accelerating integration of UAVs into US national airspace.
All data gathered by the six test sites will go
straight to that interagency group, Huerta said.
The test drone sites will have to comply with federal and state privacy
laws, account for collected data and present annual reviews on privacy
practices, Huerta said.
“It's crucial that as we move forward with
drone use, those procedural protections are followed by concrete
restrictions on how data from drones can be used and how long it can be
stored,” said Christopher Calabrese, legislative counsel for the
American Civil Liberties Union.