AOH :: PT-1323.HTM

Surveillance in the sky: Homeland Security wants aerial drones with cameras

Surveillance in the sky: Homeland Security wants aerial drones with cameras
Surveillance in the sky: Homeland Security wants aerial drones with cameras

Unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) have long been used over Iraq and 
Afghanistan. Now local police and Homeland Security want to use them in 
the U.S. for aerial surveillance.

This raises two interesting issues: privacy and safety. The privacy one 
is familiar to Politech readers. If you have a fleet of UAVs overhead on 
a clear day, they could track when your car leaves your driveway, where 
you go, who you visit, how long you stay, how fast you drive, and add 
all that data to a massive information store that could be available to 
any Fed for the asking. (Networked terrestrial cameras and facecams 
raise essentially the same issue.)

The safety issue involves sharing airspace with pilots carrying passengers.

News coverage: 

Photos of UAVs: 

The Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association's writeup of a North Carolina 
county's use of an UAV for monitoring its citizens: 

Summary of a House hearing on this today is below.




The purpose of this hearing is to discuss the use of Unmanned Aerial 
Vehicles (UAVs) or Unmanned Aerial Systems in the National Airspace 
System (NAS) and the authority of the Federal Aviation Administration 
(FAA) to provide safety oversight and air traffic control over these 
systems in the NAS.


According to the Congressional Research Service, Unmanned Aerial 
Vehicles (UAVs) have been referred to in many ways: remotely piloted 
vehicle, drone, robot plane, and pilotless aircraft are a few such 
names. UAVs, which may have a wingspan as large as a Boeing 737 or be as 
small as a radio-controlled model airplane, are defined by the 
Department of Defense (DOD) as powered, aerial vehicles that

     * do not carry a human operator,
     * use aerodynamic forces to provide vehicle lift,
     * can fly autonomously or be piloted remotely,
     * can be expendable or recoverable, and
     * can carry a lethal or nonlethal payload.

There are two different types of UAVs: drones and remotely piloted 
vehicles (RPVs). Both drones and RPVs are pilotless, but drones are 
programmed for autonomous flight. RPVs are actively flown =97 remotely =97 
by a ground control operator.

While historically UASs have been used primarily by the DOD in military 
settings outside of U.S. borders to enhance warfighting capabilities, 
there is growing demand to operate UAVs in the integrated NAS. In fact, 
Congress has repeatedly called for and funded programs to study and 
eventually mandate the use of UAVs in support of homeland security 
missions and for other purposes. Federal agencies, such as the Customs 
and Border Protection Service (CBP), the Drug Enforcement Agency, the 
Federal Bureau of Investigation, the Transportation Security 
Administration, the Federal Emergency Management Agency, and State and 
Local law enforcement agencies are interested in utilizing UAVs in the 
NAS. Public uses include border security, port security, surveillance, 
drug interdiction, search and rescue, fire fighting, and other law 
enforcement and homeland security initiatives. Some of these activities 
are taking place today; for instance, the CBP conducts UAV surveillance 
operations along the Nation=92s southern border; a NASA-sponsored program 
has produced civilian UAVs to monitor pollution and measure ozone 
levels; and the Department of Energy is looking at UAVs outfitted with 
radiation sensors to detect potential nuclear reactor accidents.

UAVs are also an emerging segment of the commercial aviation industry 
and commercial entities would like to be able to operate UAVs in the 
NAS. There are many possible commercial uses of UAVs. In fact, the FAA 
acknowledges that manufacturers and operators are conducting research 
on, or are designing, aircraft that could fill niche markets unimagined 
just a decade ago. According to the FAA, some of the research and 
development activities the commercial aviation industry already performs 
include supporting law enforcement, homeland security, firefighting, 
weather prediction and tracking activities.


The FAA has sole authority over the safe and efficient use of the NAS. 
The FAA is responsible for overseeing the safety of the civil airspace, 
including operations by the military, government, private pilots and 
commercial entities. To this end, the FAA must take appropriate actions 
to ensure the safety of the public, which includes the flying public, as 
well as people and property on the ground.

Public Uses of the Civil Airspace - Certificate of Waiver or Authorization

According to the FAA, when the military or a government agency wants to 
fly a UAV in civil airspace (outside of Special Use Airspace or Military 
Operation Areas which are =93no fly=94 areas and therefore not integrated 
with other operators), the FAA examines the request and issues a 
Certificate of Waiver or Authorization (COA), generally based on the 
following principles:

     * The COA authorizes an operator to use defined airspace for a 
specified time (up to one year, in some cases) and includes special 
provisions unique to each operation. For instance, a COA may include a 
requirement to operate only under Visual Flight Rules (VFR).
     * Most, if not all, COAs require coordination with an appropriate 
air traffic control facility and require the UAV to have a transponder 
able to operate in standard air traffic control mode with automatic 
altitude reporting.
     * To make sure the UAV will not interfere with other aircraft, a 
ground observer or an accompanying =93chase=94 aircraft must maintain visual 
contact with the UAV.

The COA process has made possible research and development efforts and 
provided a means to introduce UAVs into the air traffic system. This 
process has aided the FAA, other government agencies, and the UAV 
manufacturers in identifying potential safety issues. Identified issues, 
such as the ability to =93detect, see and avoid=94 other traffic, need to be 
addressed through further technological advancements and additional 
research and development efforts. Currently, the COA process is not 
available to commercial entities.

Public Uses of the Civil Airspace =96 Temporary Flight Restrictions

In order to address a request by the CBP to conduct UAV operations along 
the southern border, the FAA established a Temporary Flight Restriction 
(TFR) along the U.S.-Mexico border in Arizona and New Mexico. The 
approximately 300 nm-long, 17-nm wide in most places, corridor is to 
prevent U.S. Customs and Border Patrol UAV aircraft from colliding with 
other civilian aircraft. The TFR is in effect from 12,000 to 14,000 feet 
and is active from 5 p.m. until 7 a.m. daily. The TFR is scheduled to be 
in effect until December 31, 2006, and may be renewed next year.

Commercial Uses of the Civil Airspace

To address the increasing needs of the civil market and the desire by 
civilian operators to fly UAVs in the NAS, the FAA has set up a UAV 
office and is developing new policies, procedures and approval 
processes. The FAA anticipates having draft UAV guidance in two years. 
The approach is to have the appropriate level of oversight without being 
overly restrictive in the early stages.

More immediately, the FAA is reviewing certification requests from 
several UAV manufacturers. The first airworthiness certificates in the 
=93Experimental=94 category (for research and development, crew training, or 
market survey) were issued in 2005.


There are a number of other issues facing the FAA related to the 
emerging commercial UAV industry, including:

Safety oversight:

The FAA has identified two primary UAV safety issues that must be 
addressed for them to operate safely in the integrated civil airspace.

     * The need for proven UAV command and control redundancies should 
there be a disruption in communication or should the operator lose 
contact with the vehicle; and
     * The need for reliable =93detect and avoid=94 capability so that UAVs 
can sense and avoid other aircraft.

Short term: The use of COAs, experimental certificates and TFRs are 
intended to be temporary fixes. As it stands today, the lack of UAV 
standards, operational procedures and regulations is problematic. The 
demand for UAV operations is growing, and the short-term safety 
processes put in place, while allowing the FAA to gather important 
operational data, are not feasible in the long-term. Permission to fly 
UAVs in the NAS typically takes 60-90 days and permission is often 
accompanied by operational restrictions. In addition, FAA regions are 
not always interpreting the existing regulations the same way, leading 
to inconsistent regulation and enforcement. The FAA, other government 
agencies, UAV manufacturers, and commercial aviation stakeholders must 
continue to look for innovative solutions to address the safety issues 
related to UAVs in the NAS.

Long term: The FAA has asked RTCA, Inc., a private, not-for-profit 
corporation that develops consensus-based recommendations for the agency 
on technical issues, to help develop UAV standards. RTCA will answer two 
key questions: How will UAVs handle command and control, and how will 
they detect and avoid other aircraft? Both of these questions are 
dependent upon the development of technology and operational procedures.

In the long term, it must be demonstrated to the FAA that UAVs can 
operate at the equivalent level of safety as a manned aircraft. This 
process will take time. All the stakeholders, the FAA, DOD, DHS, other 
Government agencies, the NAS users, and the UAV industry must work 
together to achieve this safety goal.

Research and Development Programs and ACCESS 5:

Until recently, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) 
sponsored a government-industry project called ACCESS 5. The project 
brought together NASA, the FAA, the DOD, the DHS and the UAV National 
Industry Team (UNITE) to integrate UAVs or Remotely Operated Aircraft 
(ROA) into the national civil airspace via a four-step process. The 
first two steps of that process were funded by NASA in the 
High-Altitude, Long-Endurance Remotely Operated Aircraft in the National 
Airspace System (HALE ROA in the NAS) project. The HALE ROA in the NAS 
project was established in 2004 to develop policies, procedures and 
technical standards to enable remotely or autonomously operated aircraft 
to fly reliably and routinely in civil airspace with an equivalent level 
of safety as planes flown by on-board pilots. The last two steps in 
Access 5 were not part of NASA's HALE ROA in the NAS project, and 
funding them was left dependent upon the success achieved in the first 
two steps.

The HALE ROA in the NAS project was funded primarily by NASA's 
Aeronautics Mission Directorate, with a planned budget for steps one and 
two of about $103 million through fiscal year 2009, or about 75 percent 
of the project's estimated cost over that five-year period. Industry 
members of the Access 5 project were contributing funding, with roughly 
75 percent of the project's funding from NASA and 25 percent from industry.

Unfortunately for UAV research and development efforts, NASA has 
recently announced a comprehensive restructuring of its research 
programs. As such, Access 5 has been defunded and important UAV research 
and development work has stopped. To date, no other agency or entity has 
taken on, or agreed to, fund the project.

International cooperation:

The use of UAVs in the civil airspace is a global issue. The FAA and 
other Government agencies continue to work closely with their 
international counterparts to harmonize standards, policies, procedures, 
and regulatory requirements.

Recreational Model Aircraft

Appropriate oversight of model aircraft operations must be considered as 
the FAA and interested parties develop standards and regulations for the 
use of UAVs in the NAS. The term =93model aircraft=94 is defined by the 
Academy of Model Aeronautics (AMA) as a non-human-carrying device 
capable of sustained flight in the atmosphere, not exceeding the 
limitations established in the Official AMA National Model Aircraft 
Safety Code, exclusively for recreation, sport, and/or competition 
activities. The AMA has been in existence since 1936, and is a 
non-profit organization whose purpose is to promote the development of 
model aviation as a recognized sport and worthwhile recreation activity. 
The AMA coordinates with the FAA and self-polices the operation of model 
aircraft in AMA sanctioned events. Some of the operational requirements 
for AMA sanctioned activities include:

     * A maximum takeoff weight of a model aircraft, including fuel, is 
55 pounds, except for those flown under the AMA Experimental Aircraft Rules;
     * Operations shall not take place higher than approximately 400 
feet above ground level, when within three (3) miles of an airport 
without notifying the airport operator;
     * Yielding the right-of-way and avoiding flying in the proximity of 
full-scale aircraft and utilizing a spotter when appropriate;
     * Operators of radio control model aircraft shall control the 
aircraft from the ground and maintain un-enhanced visual contact with 
the aircraft throughout the entire flight; and
     * No model aircraft shall be equipped with devices that would allow 
for autonomous flight.

The AMA=92s position is that model aircraft should not be included in the 
standards and regulations for UAVs, and that in establishing the 
definition of UAV, the focus should be on the purpose of the vehicle 
operation as opposed to the size or ability of the vehicle.
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