Mar , 2005
The Next Generation Air Transportation System foresees a place in the national airspace for unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs). So does the Los Angeles Police Department, which is poised to use UAVs as crime fighters.
One of the NGATS' strategies is to establish an agile air traffic system by 2025, which includes establishing routine access to the national airspace for UAVs and other new vehicles.
It's a good thing: interest in using UAVs for non-military work is growing. The New York Times reported in January that the Los Angeles Police Department plans to test a UAV next month for potential "eye in the sky" use and other crime-fighting tasks. The article also noted that the United States Marshals Service already uses UAVs for surveillance, while the Maryland Port Authorities interested in a small fleet.
UAVs, already widely used by the military, are attractive to law enforcement organizations because they cost much less than helicopters. Safety is also an asset. Using a UAV, officers can observe a situation from a distance. Helicopters require a pilot and officers - which can be brought down. The size of UAVs also lends to their safety value. Many UAVs are small enough to fit in a car trunk; if they crash, they will do less damage in a populated area than an airplane or helicopter might.
Currently, the legal use of UAVs in the civil airspace requires FAA approval through a one-year "certificate of authorization" for a particular plane in a specific area. Permission to use UAVs is reviewed by the FAA on a case-by-case basis. However, work is already underway to create procedures and standards for UAVs.
Last year, Access 5, a joint government-industry program was initiated. The program brings together NASA, the Federal Aviation Administration, the Department of Defense and six major industry members. Their goal: to plan the safe, orderly and efficient integration of UAVs into civil airspace over the next five years. According to NASA, Access 5's focus is not only on the development of procedures and standards, but also on technologies such as command and control, detection and avoidance.
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