WASHINGTON, D.C. — Drones — Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS) — are getting greater acceptance worldwide, leading all in aviation to take a new and detailed look into how they will fit into the airspace and how they will affect the safety of all flight operations.
This was revealed in the results of a poll conducted by The Christian Science Monitor among its online readers. Results of the poll were released at a panel discussion conducted by the Aerospace Industries Association (AIA) at the Paris Air Show June 19.
According to the survey, 54% of the public favors increased non-military use of UAS, 27% are opposed, and 20% neutral. Privacy and safety are the top issues the public wants the government to resolve to increase the civilian use of UAS.
“This poll demonstrates significant support for civilian UAS applications among the populace, both in America and internationally,” said Marion Blakey, president and CEO of AIA.
She added that safe integration of UAS into the nation’s airspace is a top priority for the industry and she pledged the industry’s cooperation with the government.
“Unmanned aircraft are a natural complement to air traffic control development like NextGen and SESAR (the European equivalent to NextGen),” added John Langford, chairman and CEO of Aurora Flight Sciences.
The online poll showed only 25% of the public is “very well aware” of current and potential non-military uses for UAS. Even now, UAS are used in other nations for a variety of uses. For example, in the Czech Republic they are used to monitor flooding, while in South Africa they help in wildlife preservation efforts.
Border protection, law enforcement surveillance, and search and rescue are the most common uses known by the public for UAS. But individual groups have a myriad of uses in mind. For example, an animal rights group has announced plans to use UAS to monitor farms for the cruel treatment of animals, according to a report in The Washington Post. Others say UAS can serve to spot wild fires, enabling their early detection and preventing major destruction like in Colorado. In some areas, drones are wanted for traffic management.
Such uses of eyes in the sky are considered by some to be an invasion of privacy. Concerns about this has led some states to look for ways to keep the use of UAS under safe control after Congress approved expanded use of drone for both public and private parties. More than 40 states have considered legislation to regulate UAS, while several have enacted legislation in attempts to balance the value of UAS with public and private rights. Meanwhile, some question whether such surveillance will pass the First Amendment test.
Currently, FAA regulations require a license to operate any vehicle in the airspace. (Hobbyists flying model air vehicles do not need a license, but must keep the vehicles below a certain altitude.) So far, the FAA has granted licenses for UAS operations to law enforcement agencies and universities. How, or if, state regulations and federal rules might conflict is one of the many issues that still need to be resolved.
Officials with the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association (AOPA), National Association of State Aviation Officials (NASAO) and other aviation groups are paying close attention to the exploding growth of UAS here and internationally, with safety the major issue.