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Use of UAS Likely to Expand
By Matthew Everett
Remotely piloted vehicles and unmanned drones, collectively known as Unmanned Aircraft Systems, have revolutionized the way the military performs certain tasks. Many tasks that are dangerous or simply boring are routinely handled by these devices in today's military. Now, the FAA is facing mounting pressure from civilian and law enforcement agencies to further expand UAS use into the national airspace system.
Some of the characteristics of these aircraft, such as the Predator B's 20 hour endurance, are unmatched with manned aircraft. This makes them very attractive to agencies like the Coast Guard and law enforcement, who regularly use manned aircraft for long search operations, and energy companies, who regulary use manned aircraft to inspect powerlines or pipelines. The ability for these agencies to use a UAS in place of manned aircraft would represent a significant cost savings.
The FAA has thus far been reluctant to approve wide spread use of UAS in US airspace due to concerns about interaction with other aircraft. There are currently hundreds of models of UAS in production, and like all aircraft they range in size and mission. Additionally, they come in two major varieties: drones and remotely piloted vehicles. Drones are preprogrammed to follow a specific mission and, once launched, perform that mission free of human interaction. RPVs are piloted by people on the ground, but often these people are hundreds or thousands of miles away. Lost communication is a major concern to the FAA, which fears that a rogue UAS could cause serious problems without proper separation from other aircraft. According to a recent Associated Press article, Marion Blakey, a former FAA administrator, indicated that the FAA's transition from radar-based air traffic control to a satellite based system will help ease such concerns. Under this system, known as ADS-B, aircraft will continuously advertise their position.
The point to take away from this is that UAS use will only expand in the near future. Within the next decade, organizations as diverse as state police, tornado researchers, and energy companies could be operating UAS on a daily basis.
Matthew Everett is a private pilot and aviation blogger. You can find his blog at http://leavingterrafirma.com.
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