Feb 19, 2012

Drones Approved for US Airspace

The monopoly of air space by large commercial heavier-than-air craft cracked a little this week, when the USA's FAA approved us of airspace up to 400 feet for drone use. These drones vary from military models costing $400K to home made rotors--more about the military models at the end of this post.

But first, an Atlantic Society of Radio Control Modellers meeting flying a

According to the N. Y. Times,
Under the new law, within 90 days, the F.A.A. must allow police and first responders to fly drones under 4.4 pounds, as long as they keep them under an altitude of 400 feet and meet other requirements. The agency must also allow for “the safe integration” of all kinds of drones into American airspace, including those for commercial uses, by Sept. 30, 2015. And it must come up with a plan for certifying operators and handling airspace safety issues, among other rules.
The American Civil Liberties Union and other advocacy groups may protest the new law citing ever-increasing "routine aerial surveillance of American life.” Yes, that is a concern, but innovation with small accelerometers, electric motors and cameras sounds like healthy innovation to me.

Here is a Microsoft Kinect sensor guided drone:

Passive flight enthusiasts should be greatly encouraged that hobbyist activity and small business activity can bring about a change in the FAA rules. Oh, wait, there is the military-industrial connection.

With the winding-down of the war in Afghanistan, where drones have been used to gather intelligence and fire missiles, these manufacturers have been awaiting lucrative new opportunities at home. The market for drones is valued at $5.9 billion and is expected to double in the next decade, according to industry figures. Drones can cost millions of dollars...
Many organizations are gearing up for this type of business; one sign is the opening of generic "spam" web portals such as UAVM.com, where they write

In the very near future, Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs) will become Standard Tools for a wide variety of Civil Engineering, Precision Agricultural, Livestock and Land Management, Industrial, and Homeland Security, Industrial Security, Police-Fire as well as for many other Commercial Applications not currently serviced or serviced by manned aircraft.
The passive flight community may find such motorized drones to be pests some day, but it is encouraging that the airspace is being shared. I assume that the military use of lighter than air vehicles will also make an impact.

New York Times article on the new FAA rule,
ASRCM website, http://www.asrcm.ns.ca/
UAVM.com generic site: http://www.uavm.com/uavmarketspace.html