FAA Unveils Plan For Domestic Drone Take-Off By 2015

Administrator Huerta projects that in five years at least 7,500 aircraft could be in the national airspace

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NASA's Global Hawk pilotless aircraft sits in a hangar after arriving from a science mission monitoring tropical storm Gabrielle, during a survey of unmanned aircraft and related systems developed by the NASA Dryden Flight Research Center at Edwards Air Force Base.

The Federal Aviation Administration has new plans for unmanned aircraft systems, better known as drones.

On Thursday, the administration released its first roadmap [pdf] of efforts to integrate the systems into the national airspace. At the moment, use of unmanned systems for public and research initiatives is permitted by the FAA on a case-by-case basis. Law enforcement agencies and universities have used unmanned aircraft systems in the past for various missions including search-and-rescue and weather research. In September, the first unmanned aircraft authorize for commercial use completed a mission over the Arctic Ocean.

But commercial and private players are eager to get into the world of domestic drone use, and the FAA’s new document, which will be updated annually, outlines the policies, technologies, regulations, and procedures that will be required as the systems are put to more widespread use.

“We must ensure that safety and efficiency of the entire airspace including all aircraft all people and property both manned and unmanned in the air and on the ground, said FAA Administrator Michael Huerta at a press conference at the Capitol Hilton on Thursday. “We have operational goals as well as safety issues that we need to address before the implementation of unmanned aircraft systems.”

For starters, the administration will select six test sites, as required by Congress, by the end of the year. The test sites are intended to dry run some of the rules for integrating drones into domestic air traffic.

Given the privacy concerns surrounding the use of drones in the federal airspace, the administration has drafted a privacy policy for the six test sites. Though the sites have not been selected, the policy is available for public view online.

The FAA projects there could be as many as 7,500 small, unmanned aircraft in the national airspace within the next five years. The administration plans to be in the preliminary stages of integration by September 2015.