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Sat, Feb 18, 2006

Gaston Co. Agrees To Keep CyberBug Away From Planes, Under 400 Ft. AGL

AOPA Pressures FAA To Address Issue

Aero-News first reported on the Gaston County (NC) police department's plans to deploy a CyberBug UAV earlier this month. At the time, AOPA's Chris Dancy told ANN the association would be contacting the FAA to address the issue... and AOPA reports the FAA has acted.

Well, eventually. AOPA tells Aero-News it contacted the FAA, which initially said it had no authority to stop the flights. So AOPA President Phil Boyer bucked the issue up to senior agency officials.

That resulted in regional FAA officials contacting the police department, which agreed to voluntarily abide by the provisions of Advisory Circular 91-57, "Model Aircraft Operating Standards," which require the drones to remain clear of navigable airspace and below 400 feet AGL.

While the compromise should mean that the community's new UAV will be able to peacefully coexist with general aviation traffic in the skies over Gaston County, the issue promises to only become more pronounced as an increasing number of municipalities consider using less-expensive UAVs in roles once reserved for manned helicopters.

"Safety is paramount, and current airspace users must be assured that a reasonable level of safety can be maintained," said Melissa Rudinger, AOPA vice president of regulatory affairs. "The prospect of small UAVs flitting around in the same airspace we use is frightening."

"We know what kind of damage a 5-pound bird can do to a GA aircraft," Rudinger said. "Imagine what would happen if you hit a 14-pound UAV?"

The issue will only be resolved, Rudinger said, when the FAA addresses it directly.

"AOPA has been pushing for two years to get the FAA to issue guidance on UAV operations and their integration into the National Airspace System," said Rudinger. "[AC 91-57] isn't the final solution, but it's a step in the right direction."

AOPA states that UAV operators and their drones should be certified to meet the operating requirements that manned aircraft currently meet -- including the ability to sense and avoid other aircraft.

"What do you think your chances are of seeing [a CyberBug] before you hit it?" said Rudinger. "And it can't sense you or get out of the way."

The company says the 14-pound UAV cruises at 29 mph at 1,300 feet AGL, which puts it easily into navigable airspace and creates a potential midair collision hazard.

"What do you think your chances are of seeing this thing before you hit it?" said Rudinger. "And it can't sense you or get out of the way."

This isn't the first time law enforcement has flown the CyberBug. Cyber Defense, the company that produces the CyberBug, claims it was used to watch for "unruly behavior" and "alert authorities about accidents" during the 12th Annual Southern Maryland "Blessing of the Bikes" in La Plata.

The company also sells a much larger 70-pound, turbine-powered drone that cruises at 250 knots.

"These UAVs currently fall into a regulatory gray zone," said Rudinger. "Because of their relatively low cost, we can expect that many more jurisdictions may try to put these collision hazards aloft. That's why AOPA will continue to advocate that the FAA take regulatory control."

FMI: www.cduav.com/

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