FAA's impending rule on small UAVs may usher in a new era of civil aerial warfare

By John Keller

Posted by John Keller

The U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) in Washington is getting ready to propose a new rule this year that would open up vast new opportunities for operating small unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) in non-controlled civil airspace. This is good news for developers, who have labored under sometimes-difficult FAA UAV rules that often require special FAA certifications to operate even the most small and simple UAVs from parking lots and back yards.

FAA officials say the new UAV regulations, which would make it easier to operate these small aircraft, could be as boon for law enforcement to conduct surveillance, traffic patrols, and other aerial work to replace or augment far-more-expensive manned helicopters.

Those who also could benefit are remote sensing companies, would could enhance satellite imagery with photo data taken from small UAVs, farmers who could use small UAVs to identify areas in their fields that need extra water or fertilizer, and even hobbyists designing new kinds of inexpensive sensor payloads for small UAVs.

It's those small sensor payloads, however, that are worrying some folks, because with enhanced access to airborne sensors, privacy advocates say the wrong kinds of eyes in the sky might be checking up on the wrong kinds of people. What about the celebrity Paparazzi who constantly are trying to get the latest photos of famous people. Put small UAVs in the hands of these people, and no one will have any privacy -- ever.



Think also about celebrities who own large estates with well-guarded perimeters and other defenses against prying eyes. Do you think these people will be able to pay extra for aerial rights over their estates?

Some, undoubtedly, will take matters into their own hands, as was reported last month at a privately owned plantation in South Carolina where owners sponsored a pigeon shoot for hunters. An animal rights group tried to photograph the event using a small UAV. The presence of the UAV caused the shooting party to disperse pretty quickly, but not without some hard feelings.

Before all was said and done that day, a shotgun blast from nearby cover knocked the animal rights group UAV out of the sky, causing it to crash on a nearby roadway. This, in turn, caused all kinds of outcry about the alleged recklessness of discharging a firearm near a public roadway, but the point was made.

Now I'm wondering if the upcoming FAA rules on operating small UAVs will make it open season for blasting these tiny aircraft out of the sky over private property. I realize the FAA is trying to put a lot of issues to rest with its upcoming new rulemaking, but I'm thinking it's going to open up a can of worms, as well.

Let the lawsuits begin.

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The Mil & Aero Bloggers

John Keller is editor-in-chief of Military & Aerospace Electronics magazine, which provides extensive coverage and analysis of enabling electronic and optoelectronic technologies in military, space, and commercial aviation applications. A member of the Military & Aerospace Electronics staff since the magazine's founding in 1989, Mr. Keller took over as chief editor in 1995.

Ernesto Burden is the publisher of PennWell’s Aerospace & Defense Media Group, including Military & Aerospace Electronics, Avionics Intelligence and Avionics Europe.  He’s a father of four, a runner, and an avid digital media enthusiast with a deep background in the intersection of media publishing, digital technology, and social media. He can be reached at ernestob@pennwell.com and on Twitter @aero_ernesto.

Courtney E. Howard, as executive editor, enjoys writing about all things electronics and avionics in PennWell’s burgeoning Aerospace and Defense Group, which encompasses Military & Aerospace Electronics, Avionics Intelligence, the Avionics Europe conference, and much more. She’s also a self-proclaimed social-media maven, mil-aero nerd, and avid avionics geek. Connect with Courtney at Courtney@Pennwell.com, @coho on Twitter, and on LinkedIn.

Mil & Aero Magazine

December 2013
Volume 24, Issue 12
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