Drones eyed for use in U.S. airspace

Feb. 14, 2012 at 4:49 PM
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WASHINGTON, Feb. 14 (UPI) -- The Defense Department is working with the Federal Aviation Administration to try to open U.S. airspace to military drones, officials say.

The military says it now has nearly 7,500 drones, up from about 50 before the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, and is looking to deploy them domestically with the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan winding down, the Los Angeles Times reported.

The FAA allows use of the drones in U.S. airspace only with special certificates such as those issued for unarmed Predator drones to patrol the nation's borders. The FAA issued 313 special certificates last year.

The drones could be used to train pilots who fly them remotely as well as for new roles such as helping firefighters see "hot spots" during wildfires or dropping water to fight fires.

The Pentagon says it wants the same rules for drones as other military aircraft.

The remotely piloted aircraft aren't allowed in domestic airspace without special certificates because they lack adequate technology to "detect, sense and avoid" other aircraft to prevent midair collisions, the FAA has said.

Most of the drones are small, about the size of hobby aircraft, and the FAA is working on proposed rules for integrating them for possible use by law enforcement and private businesses to provide aerial surveillance. The Times said the FAA expects to release a proposal for use of small drones in the spring.

Last week, legislation that would require the FAA to devise a plan to integrate all drones into U.S. airspace by 2015 won congressional approval.

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