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Flying Drones in U.S. Airspace

When we think about, or hear about flying drones, we think of those drones flown over Afghanistan or another war zone.  Welcome to 2013 and flying drones over the United States.

In mid 2012, A pilot of a small business jet reported a near miss with what he reported to be an unmanned drone near Denver, Colorado.  The pilot’s radio transmission of the incident to air traffic controllers, has brought about an investigation by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) regarding the incident.

Flying drones has become quiet popular with Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University in Daytona Beach, Fla.,  Kansas State University, and  University of North Dakota offering bachelor’s degrees for potential drone pilots.

Current drone pilots are for the most part working for military related contractors.   That single source of job opportunity is up for grabs in the next two years.  In 2015, Federal Aviation Administration (FAA)  is due to release regulations for unmanned aircraft in domestic airspace. Once those regulations are in place, the FAA estimates that 10,000 commercial drones will be operating in the skies over the U.S. within five years.

In February of 2012, President Obama signed the FAA Modernization and Reform Act, which privacy proponents fear makes it easier for the government to fly the unmanned drones over the U.S..  Once the FAA fully clears drones for use, there could be up to 30,000 drones flying over the skies of the U.S..  Current use of drones is for training of the military and for use by the Customs and Border Protection Agency in their work securing America’s borders.

With the bill having been signed, a variety of privacy and advocacy groups have begun to express their concern over the use and potential misuse of the drones.  The American Civil Liberties Union, Electronic Frontier Foundation, and Federation of American Scientists are among those who have expressed concerns regarding the issue.  The Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC) has let the FAA know that transparency and accountability need to be paramount in the operation of drones.  The co-chairmen of the Congressional Bipartisan Privacy Caucus have also asked the FAA to detail how it will license the drones.

The FAA, has received 61 requests to fly drones over the U. S., from Police Departments, other agencies and Universities as well as the U. S. Air Force, Army and the Navy.  There have been 78 certificates issued for commercial drone operations, in addition to the nearly 300 active government licenses.

One of the out of the box uses for drones is use by paparazzi in their continued search for that elusive photograph.  Should paparazzi begin to use drones, it will open many questions, least of all is the issue of privacy.

So the next time you’re relaxing out on your back porch at night, it might not be a mosquito you hear buzzing in your ear, but a drone flying overhead.