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FAA making plans for drone flights in U.S.; 7,500 small drones could be aloft within 5 yearsWASHINGTON — The Federal Aviation Administration published a plan Thursday that sets the stage for law enforcement agencies, businesses, universities and hobbyists to begin flying remotely piloted aircraft, better known as drones, in the United States by 2015.
The 74-page document immediately drew flak from some privacy advocates, who say that the FAA needs to clarify how the government and private users can use video and other data from surveillance drones, and how long it can be stored.“As far as commercially flying these things, I think we are still two years away from that,” said Ben Gielow, government relations manager for the Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International, an industry group.
The new plan “is a big step for FAA to make, but clearly, more needs to be done,” Gielow said.FAA Administrator Michael Huerta estimated that 7,500 small drones could be aloft within five years if federal regulations are written on schedule. He said the chief concern is requiring drone designs and pilot training to help prevent unmanned planes from colliding with other aircraft.
“We have operational goals and safety issues we need to consider as we expand the use of unmanned aircraft,” Huerta told an aerospace conference Thursday at a hotel in Washington.More than 80 law enforcement agencies have FAA permission to fly drones, and universities are testing drones for weather forecasting and agricultural and industrial uses.
By the end of this year, the FAA is scheduled to choose test sites in six states where manufacturers can bring drones for evaluation by federal safety experts, Huerta said. Twenty-four states have applied to host the tests.According to the FAA, the state governments or universities that oversee the test sites must describe their policies for privacy, data use and data retention. The document released Thursday did not set those polices, but said drone operators must “comply with federal, state and other laws on individual privacy protection.”
Ryan Calo, who teaches robotics law at the University of Washington School of Law in Seattle, said the document shows that FAA officials are at least considering privacy concerns.“Here they are taking a different tack and embracing the idea that privacy is a necessary consideration,” Calo said in a telephone interview. “That is part of a change from when they were saying, ‘We are not about privacy. We are really all about safety.’”
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