Drones similar to those flying in Afghanistan and Pakistan might soon be patrolling the skies over the United States filling a variety of roles from aerial photography and land surveying to law-enforcement duties. Their ultimate fate is being decided now by the FAA, who is at work on rules to determine how drones will safely share airspace with manned aircraft. Some of the integration testing could be done in Florida; the FAA could pick the six testing sites as early as this December.
Stars and Stripes reports that Jim Kuzma, chief operating officer for Space Florida, said “We have lots to offer.” Space Florida is a Cape Canaveral-based space development agency courting the FAA to become one of the designated testing sites. Kuzma estimates as many as 50 companies in Florida are involved in some way with manufacturing drones. According to Bloomberg News, the drone industry is estimated to be worth nearly $6 billion. This figure could almost double by 2021 because of its expected expansion into the civilian economy. Unmanned aircraft can cost anywhere from thousands to millions of dollars per aircraft.
U.S. Rep. John Mica, whose transportation committee passed the FAA law, said the testing will determine how high the drones will fly to operate safely and what the safe distances will need to be between a drone and a plane. Drones are already flying in much of the U.S. under exemptions; most are being used by law enforcement, especially along the Mexican border.
The ACLU is concerned that drones could invade citizens’ privacy. The unmanned aircraft can operate for hours and be virtually impossible to detect. Miami ACLU spokesman Derek Newton suggested a thorough review of drones before they are approved for widespread use in the U.S.