WASHINGTON – The drones are coming.
The initial step in the process of overseeing introduction of unmanned aircraft in the nation’s skies was announced this week by the Federal Aviation Administration, which is soliciting public comments on the testing of drones that could be used for a range of “eye in the sky” applications.
In response to a legislative provision in a bill reauthorizing the FAA, the agency has launched a comment period as it selects six test sites to evaluate unmanned aircraft systems. The focus of the proceeding will be determining the location of the test sites along with establishing safety standards and integrating unmanned aircraft into the nation’s airspace, the FAA said.
The FAA test sites will chiefly determine the altitudes at which drones will fly so they will not interfere with commercial air traffic as well as developing certification standards for the pilotless vehicles.
Unmanned aircraft could begin taking off in the U.S. as early as 2015.
Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood said unmanned aircraft could be used for a range of new applications like spotting wild fires. But critics worry that law enforcement agencies could use drones for unauthorized surveillance.
Industry groups praised the FAA initiative. “Unmanned aircraft will be the next big revolution in the aerospace industry, and the creation of these test sites will mark the beginning of what will one day be a common occurrence: manned and unmanned aircraft safely flying together in the same airspace” Michael Toscano, president of the Association of Unmanned Vehicle Systems International (Arlington, Va.), said in a statement.