US President Barack Obama has approved legislation that is expected to immediately accelerate the use of domestic surveillance drones within the United States.
On Thursday, Pres. Obama signed the FAA Modernization and Reform Act of 2012, a bill that the Federal Aviation Administration’s AnneMarie Ternay describes as containing requirements for integrating unmanned aircraft systems and vehicles such as drones into the national airspace starting immediately.
With the president’s approval this week, the FAA has already begun soliciting proposals from cities across the country that are interested in becoming one of six soon-to-be established test sites where drones and UAVs will be sent into the sky as America takes the next step towards accepting the latest generation of aircraft.
The FAA says that locations in over 30 states have already showed interest in the program. Soon the agency will be tasked with picking a mere half-dozen locations so that drones can formally be introduced into official US airspace and not just strips of sky above designated areas.
Should the FAA stay on schedule, drones are likely to start flying regularly in the US by late 2015, and as many as 30,000 non-military UAVs are expected to be in the sky by the end of the decade. First, however, the FAA, drone builders and pilots will have to pick test sites to work out the kinks of a controversial aircraft.
“We expect to learn how unmanned aircraft systems operate in different environments and how they will impact air traffic operations,” FAA Chief Michael Huerta says in a statement obtained by the Associated Press. “The test sites will inform the agency as we develop standards for certifying unmanned aircraft and determine necessary air traffic requirements.”
"This research will give us valuable information about how best to ensure the safe introduction of this advanced technology into our nation's skies," Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood added to the AP.
Earlier in the week, the head of the FAA’s new drone department spoke at a convention outside of Washington, DC to discuss some concerns Americans have voiced en masse lately about bringing drones to inside of America’s borders. The US Department of Homeland Security already has an arsenal of the aircraft at its disposal for use in border-patrol missions, but small-time law enforcement agencies and other federal, state and educational institutions hope to have drones of their in the near future. So far, the FAA has received at least 81 applications from entities wishing to obtain drone licenses, including police departments and universities. What exactly law enforcement could do with a drone has some Americans concerns, though, an issue that was addressed at this week’s conference.
“We currently have rules in the books that deal with releasing anything from an aircraft, period. Those rules are in place and that would prohibit weapons from being installed on a civil aircraft,” Jim Williams of the FAA’s Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS) Integration Office said this week.
On the same day that President Obama signed off on the FAA Modernization and Reform Act of 2012, around 150 people from Oakland, California attended an Alameda County meeting to weigh in on demands from figures there to put drones in the sky.
“We oppose the use of public resources to buy machines to surveil its citizens,” said Michael Seigel, a member of Alameda County Against Drones, according to Wired’s Danger Room.
Earlier in the week, the FAA’s Mr. Williams dismissed those concerns, saying, “The FAA has no authority to make rules or enforce any rules relative to privacy.”
“We can ask [the industry] to take into consideration the privacy issue. … There aren’t any rules to date on that.”