FAA road map sees challenges in allowing drones over US airspace – but there are to be 6 test sites

The US aviation regulator, the FAA, has announced 6 US states that will host sites for testing commercial use of drones (unmanned aerial vehicles). The sites are part of a programme to develop safety and operational rules for drones by the end of 2015. While drones have till now largely been used by the military, their potential is now being explored by a range of users including estate agents, farmers, film makers and delivery services. They could be used for fugitive tracking, rail surveillance, traffic management, crop monitoring, land management, news reporting, conservation etc. There will be issue of airspace safety to be resolved. Drones will need to be able to sense and avoid each other and aircraft, and communicate with and respond to air traffic controllers. The FAA says safety is the priority, but there are also issues of privacy and security, before drones should be allowed in domestic skies. An act in 2012 requires the FAA to implement rules and procedures for licensing drone use by government agencies, commercial entities, hobbyists and others. There are fears that drones equipped with high-tech cameras and listening devices would be able to conduct unprecedented and persistent surveillance of civilians. 


The CAA’s guidance page is at CAA on Unmanned Aircraft

30 December 2013 (BBC)

US announces six drone test sites


DIY drones: Enthusiasts making their own aircraft

The US aviation regulator has announced the six states that will host sites for testing commercial use of drones.

The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) picked Alaska, Nevada, New York, North Dakota, Texas and Virginia.

The sites are part of a programme to develop safety and operational rules for drones by the end of 2015.

Hitherto mainly used by the military, the potential of drones is now being explored by everyone from real estate agents to farmers or delivery services.

The head of the FAA, Michael Huerta, said safety would be the priority as it considers approval for unleashing the unmanned aircraft into US skies.

Five surprising uses for drones

  1. Help reporters cover stories (the BBC is currently trying them out)
  2. Allow real-estate agents to sell luxury homes by showing off that stunning aerial view
  3. Deliver beer to music festival-goers
  4. Make movies (Part of The Smurfs 2 was filmed with a drone)
  5. Track the Sumatran orangutan and other endangered species

Pilots will be notified through routine announcements about where drones are being flown.

The FAA said in a statement that its decision followed a 10-month process involving proposals from 24 states.

The agency said it had considered geography, climate, location of ground infrastructure, research needs, airspace use, aviation experience and risk.

The sites chosen are:

  • A set of locations proposed by the University of Alaska in seven zones with varying climates, from Hawaii to Oregon
  • Griffiss International Airport in central New York state will test how to integrate drones into the congested north-east airspace
  • North Dakota Department of Commerce will test the human impact of drones and also how the aircraft cope in temperate climates
  • The state of Nevada will concentrate on standards for air traffic and drone operators
  • Texas A&M University plans to develop safety requirements for drones and testing for airworthiness
  • Virginia Tech university will research operational and technical areas of risk for drones

The biggest chunk of the growth in the commercial drone industry is currently expected to be for agriculture and law enforcement.

Police and other emergency services could use them for crowd control, taking crime scene photos or for search and rescue missions.

It can cost a police department hundreds of dollars an hour to deploy a helicopter, while an unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) can be sent into the skies for as little as $25.

Farmers, meanwhile, might find it easier to spray crops or survey livestock with the pilotless aircraft.

The FAA estimates as many as 7,500 aircraft could be in the air five years after widespread airspace access is made legal.

However, the commercial use of drones has drawn criticism from both conservatives and liberals.

In a report last December, the American Civil Liberties Union said that giving drones access to US skies would only ensure “our every move is monitored, tracked, recorded and scrutinised by the authorities”.

But lawmakers from winning states were delighted with the selections.

“This is wonderful news for Nevada that creates a huge opportunity for our economy,” said Senator Harry Reid, a Democrat from Nevada.

An industry-commissioned study predicted more than 70,000 jobs – including drone operators – would develop in the first three years after Congress loosens drone restrictions on US skies.

The same study, conducted by the Teal Group research firm, found that the worldwide commercial drone market could top $89bn in the next decade.



So far some creative folks have used drones for other delivery services. A place in Philadelphia is using a drone to deliver dry cleaning and the big chain of Domino’s Pizza is testing drones to deliver pizza. The beer drop is bound to be one of the top favorite ways to use a drone. Look, up in the sky, it’s a bird, it’s a plane, no it’s a cold beer!




Tara McKelvey, BBC News

For years, people thought drones would never be allowed to fly in the US. Then Jeff Bezos got involved. The Amazon chief executive said his company would start using drones to deliver packages – and even cynics began to think something might happen.

Matt Scassero, a retired US Navy captain who has worked on efforts to expand the use of drones, said he thinks Amazon moved things along. “It adds a lot of interest,” he said.

The FAA announcement are signs of progress for Scassero and other drone enthusiasts. It means officials are taking their requests seriously – and things are on track for the drones to fly.




Drones Delivering Pizza? Venture Capitalists Wager on It

http://www.bloomberg.com/news/2013-10-30/drones-delivering-pizza-venture-capitalists-wager-on-it.html … Bloomberg. October 2013


Drone delivers beer at music festival: Beer drops from the sky via parachute

 South Africa.  11.8.2013



BBC. Amazon testing drones for deliveries

http://bbc.in/19cEYQL   packages weighing up to 2.3kg to customers within 30 minutes of order


Now DHL tests a delivery drone: Airborne robots could be used to deliver medicine to hard-to-reach places

Daily Mail 9.12.2013




FAA road map sees challenges in allowing drones over U.S. airspace

Regulatory, technical, policy and standards issues need to be figured out before drones can be properly licensed

November 8, 2013

Computerworld – Government and industry will need to overcome significant challenges, including those related to privacy and security, before commercial drone aircraft can be safely introduced in U.S. airspace, the Federal Aviation Administration said Thursday as it released a road map for the integration of drones into domestic skies.

The road map (download PDF) addresses a list of policies, regulations, technologies and procedures that need to fall into place for the FAA to start issuing licenses to commercial drone operators in large numbers. It establishes requirements that drone operators and others in the industry have to meet in order to obtain a commercial operator’s license for drones, or unmanned aerial vehicles.

U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx described the road map “as an important step forward that will help stakeholders understand the operational goals and safety issues we need to consider when planning for the future of our airspace.”

The Federal Aviation Administration Modernization and Reform Act of 2012, signed into law by President Barack Obama last year, requires the FAA to implement rules and procedures for licensing drone use by government agencies, commercial entities, hobbyists and others.

Over the next few years, thousands of unmanned aerial vehicles of varying sizes and capabilities are expected to be in use over the U.S., doing everything from fugitive tracking to rail surveillance, traffic management, crop monitoring, land management, news reporting and filmmaking.

Privacy and civil rights groups have expressed alarm over the privacy implications of widespread drone use — especially by government and law enforcement agencies. They argue that drones equipped with high-tech cameras and listening devices would be able to conduct unprecedented and persistent surveillance of civilians. Concerns have also been raised about air safety risks arising from the presence of thousands of drones in the skies.

Drone advocates have downplayed such concerns and maintain that the potential benefits of the technology far outweigh the risks.

Thursday’s road map highlights some of the challenges that need to be navigated before either side has a chance to find out the impact large-scale use of commercial drones will have in the U.S.

Among those issues are standards for ensuring that unmanned aircraft are capable of sensing and avoiding other aircraft near them and policies and procedures for operators of drone aircraft to communicate with and respond to air traffic controllers.

Integrating public and civilian drones into domestic airspace also carries security risks that need to be addressed through measures like vetting and training of drone operators and the adoption of controls for ensuring that drone aircraft cannot be hacked remotely.

The road map touches upon the need for strong privacy polices, controls and standards, but it offers few specifics on what controls are needed to address concerns raised by privacy advocates. The only area where the road map delves into privacy issues in some detail involves a UAV test site program being implemented by the FAA to better understand some of the issues that could crop up with widespread use of commercial drones.

Under the program, the FAA will establish six test sites in the U.S. that will be operated by state-level organizations. The operators of the test sites will be required to establish written privacy policies for data use and retention, with guidelines for what data can be collected and shared and what data must be destroyed.

Michael Toscano, president and CEO of the Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International (AUVSI) welcomed the FAA road map. “Expansion of [drone] technology will create more than 100,000 jobs and generate more than $82 billion in economic impact in the first decade following the integration” of drones into domestic airspace, he said in comments via email.

The FAA’s acknowledgment of the privacy concerns and its requirements for the test sites are important, Toscano said. “In requiring test sites to have a written plan for data use and retention, the FAA appropriately focuses on the real issue when it comes to privacy — the use, storage and sharing of data, or whether data collected must be deleted,” he said.

Toscano said he was encouraged by the agency’s focus on how data is collected and used, rather than on drone technology itself. “[Drones] are one of many platforms that could be used for collecting data,” he said. “Privacy policies should focus on how data is collected and used, as opposed to focusing on the specific platform that is doing the collecting.”

 covers data security and privacy issues, financial services security and e-voting for Computerworld





15 October 2013  (BBC)

Rise of the drone hobbyists

By Tara McKelvey, BBC News Magazine

People around the world are building their own drones. They offer a glimpse of what life will be like when the skies are filled with small, flying robots – and drones become as common as smartphones.

Raphael Pirker was sitting on a bench at Washington Square Park on a blustery Friday in New York. A small drone called Discovery, a remotely controlled aircraft made by his company, TBS Avionics, was on the bench next to him.

Nearby another drone was flying near a fountain. Even before he saw the drone, he heard it. “It’s just like this, ‘bzz-bzz’,” he said.

An onlooker watched the aircraft – “a beginner drone”, Pirker said, crash into the pavement.

Down the block hundreds of people had gathered at New York University for a Drones and Aerial Robotics Conference. Like Pirker, many of them were carrying their own drones.

On a global scale the US and Israel are the world’s biggest manufacturers of drones. Yet some European officials want to change the dynamic.

Michel Barnier, a European Union commissioner, told a group of French journalists in July that Europeans should make their own drones, rather than rely exclusively on US- and Israeli-made ones.

Pirker is also planning for the future. In Europe drones are used to make movies (see Smurfs 2). In the UK officials have granted permission to more than 130 companies and government agencies to fly drones, according to an Aerospace America report.

In the US the Federal Aviation Administration has approved the use of drones for police and government agencies, issuing about 1,400 permits over the past several years.

The civilian air space will reportedly be open to all kinds of drones in Europe by 2016 – and in the US by 2015. Many of these machines will be small – like the ones Pirker makes.

And cheap. You can make a drone, explained South-African-born Mike Winn, of Drone Deploy, for $500 (£310).

Pirker, 29, is a Swiss-Austrian who lives in Hong Kong – “for business reasons”. He wears rimless glasses, the kind once worn by Apple guru Steve Jobs, and he has light blue eyes. Pirker and the others at the conference belong to a new breed of drone maker. Many are global travellers, and most grew up on drones.

At the conference 14-year-old Riley Morgan approached Pirker, carrying a drone he had made. Another enthusiast, Russell de la Torre, who is 31, made his first robot, “a remote-controlled truck with cardboard boxes”, at age 12.

Pirker started building model airplanes when he was six. “I got bored because they were just flying circles around,” he said, spinning his hand in the air in a lazy manner. As an adult he said: “I had this crazy idea of flying [a drone] over the Statue of Liberty.

“Everybody said, ‘Don’t do that – you’re doing to get shot.'”

“It was a strange feeling,” he said, describing the day three years ago when the drone flew, as shown in this head-spinning footage. “It felt a little bit eerie because you’re flying past so much history, you know, about America.”

Drones give one a different perspective. “It’s not the plane that turns in the air – it’s the world that turns,” he said.

Drones do more than provide material for trippy videos, though. They help farmers check on crops and allow journalists to report stories. But even small drones – like the kind Pirker makes – cause problems.

“Every country has different rules, but we follow our own,” Pirker said. “We’re not going to hurt anybody. We do it with a little bit of play.” Not everyone sees his drones as whimsical.

Federal Aviation Administration officials tried to fine Pirker $10,000 for operating a drone in Charlottesville, Virginia, in October 2011. His lawyer filed a motion three weeks ago, describing the aircraft, a “five-pound radio-controlled model airplane constructed of styrofoam”, as harmless.

Small drones are usually benign. Yet they can be lethal. Roman Pirozek, 19, died last month in Brooklyn, NY, when his remote-controlled helicopter spun out of control – and hit him in the head.

Small drones also provide new ways to spy. A Seattle woman felt uneasy about a drone outside her window, as she reported earlier this year on a blog.

Amie Stepanovich, director of a project on domestic surveillance at the Electronic Privacy Information Center, thinks drones are cool – and said Pirker’s video was “gorgeous”.

But drones also worry her. “They are helping to usher in a new age of physical surveillance,” she said. “They provide a platform for some of the most invasive surveillance technologies we’ve ever seen.”

Pirker has a different perspective. Rather than causing anxiety, drones have helped him get over his fear of heights – a handicap, since he lives in a high-rise in Tseung Kwan O, outside of Hong Kong, on the 40th floor.

As he sat on the park bench in New York, he stuck out his leg and jiggled it, showing what used to happen when he looked down from a window in a tall building.

Now he said: “I just step back.”





This BBC article about a drone used in filming says:


‘Hexacopter’ changes the way TV reporters work

By Richard Westcott, BBC transport correspondent


Now, you might be thinking that this is a little bit sinister, potentially. That hexacopter could soon be flying over your head, spying.

I can put that worry to bed now – we are not allowed to use it like that. For starters, the BBC has established and strict filming rules, and secondly, the hexacopter is regulated by the Civil Aviation Authority. That means we cannot:

  • fly within 50m of a road or building unless it’s under our control
  • fly over crowds
  • fly 500m horizontally or 120m vertically from the pilot

It also means we have to log a flight plan before every take-off. As an extra safety layer, there is a GPS-based system on board that ensures that if the radio link breaks down between the pilot and the machine it automatically flies back to where it took off from, and lands.


The CAA page on unmanned aircraft is at  http://www.caa.co.uk/default.aspx?CATID=1995

Operators of Small Unmanned Aircraft are required, under articles 166 and 167 of the Air Navigation Order 2009, to obtain permission from the CAA before commencing a flight in certain circumstances; these circumstances cover:

  • flights for aerial work purposes; and
  • flights within a congested area, or in proximity to people or property, by Small Unmanned Aircraft equipped for any form of surveillance or data acquisition.

Details of the permission and how to apply are explained in the links below.

…… See  http://www.caa.co.uk/default.aspx?CATID=1995


 On the CAA page on “Avoiding Collisions, it says: 


As indicated above, it may be necessary to operate an unmanned aircraft within segregated airspace if the pilot wishes to fly it beyond unaided visual line of sight.

Unmanned aircraft with a mass of more than 7 kg (excluding fuel) must not be flown within controlled airspace, restricted airspace or an Aerodrome Traffic Zone (ATZ) unless permission has been obtained from the relevant ATCunit. More information about contacting ATC can be obtained from the Aeronautical Information Service (AIS).