(by Kashmir Hilll, Forbes.com) – The Senate passed a $63 billion bill Monday to provide four years of funding for the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA). One of the provisions of the Reauthorization Act is that the FAA clear the path for wider spread use of drones (a.k.a. unmanned aircraft) for governmental and commercial purposes. Within 90 days, the FAA has to speed up the process by which government agencies and law enforcement can get permission to use drones, and by 2015, it has to start allowing commercial use of drones:
The FAA is also required under the bill to provide military, commercial and privately-owned drones with expanded access to U.S. airspace currently reserved for manned aircraft by Sept. 30, 2015. That means permitting unmanned drones controlled by remote operators on the ground to fly in the same airspace as airliners, cargo planes, business jets and private aircraft.
Currently, private use of drones is basically limited to hobbyists, and they have to keep the drones under 400 feet and within their line of sight. Once the FAA changes the rules, a company such as Google for example could…buy drones and use them for mapping purposes. Yes, we may [soon] have Google Street Drone View.
Currently, the FAA restricts drone use primarily to segregated blocks of military airspace, border patrols and about 300 public agencies and their private partners. Those public agencies are mainly restricted to flying small unmanned aircraft at low altitudes away from airports and urban centers.
Within nine months of the bill’s passage, the FAA is required to submit a plan on how to safely provide drones with expanded access.
Drones are already being used to patrol our borders (and occasionally to catch cattle rustlers), but their use beyond that is very limited. This Act will change that.
“We are looking at border security using UAV (unmanned aerial vehicles) research, law enforcement, firefighting, just to name a few,” said Texas Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison. “There are going to be more and more uses for unmanned aerial vehicles to be able to do the surveillance and photographing that have taken helicopter pilots and small general aviation and even large aircraft to do in the past.”
The ACLU, for one, is concerned that with all this talk of taking limits off drone use, there’s no talk about putting limits on how they’re used.
“Congress — and to the extent possible, the FAA — need to impose some rules (such as those we proposed in our report) to protect Americans’ privacy from the inevitable invasions that this technology will otherwise lead to,” writes the ACLU’s Jay Stanley. “We don’t want to wonder, every time we step out our front door, whether some eye in the sky is watching our every move.”
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1. What provision for the use of drones is included in the FAA Reauthorization Act just passed by Congress?
2. By what year must the FAA establish a procedure for the commercial use of drones in the U.S.?
3. What will this allow commercial drones to be able to do legally?
4. What are the current limitations on the private use of drones?
5. How could private companies like Google use the FAA’s Reauthorization Act?
6. Why is the ACLU concerned with the provision in the FCC bill that will allow extended drone use in the U.S.?
7. Do you believe private companies should be permitted to operate unmanned drones in airspace beyond their current limitations? Explain your answer.