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Mon, May 01, 2006

In Wake Of Predator-B Accident, FAA Cancels UAV TFR

Ask, And Ye Shall Receive... But For How Long?

Last week, Aero-News reported on the downing of a US Customs and Border Patrol Predator B unmanned aerial vehicle over the Arizona desert. The UAV was one of the unmanned vehicles that, in the eyes of the FAA, warranted a 300-mile long TFR along the US-Mexico border. That TFR was needed, said the FAA, in order to keep general aviation aircraft away from possible collisions with the remotely-operated vehicles... or perhaps more accurately, the other way around.

In the wake of last Tuesday's accident... which involved no other aircraft... all other UAV missions in the area have been grounded. That, in turn, led the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association -- hardly fans of the use of UAVs in US airspace -- to call for the cancellation of the TFR.

Shortly after the organization's request, the FAA responded... and the TFR is no longer in effect.

"AOPA is pleased that the FAA has finally canceled the TFR, considering the fact that there are no operations being conducted in it at this time," said Andy Cebula, AOPA executive vice president of government affairs. "AOPA has been opposed to using flight restrictions to control UAV operations, and it's a shame that it took an accident to illustrate why TFRs are a bad idea."

How long the UAVs will be grounded... and whether a new TFR will someday go into effect in the area... remains to be seen. For the moment, however, pilots in the southwestern US can rejoice in newly-unrestricted airspace.

AOPA also hopes the FAA will take a lesson from the accident, and reconsider its views on UAVs

"...[T]his accident illustrates why UAV operations should not be conducted until these unmanned aircraft are certified to the same level of safety as manned aircraft," Cebula said. "Just think that if a pilot had been flying legally under the TFR and the UAV hit the aircraft from behind and above -- the pilot would have had no chance to see and avoid the uncontrolled UAV."

At issue in particular, says AOPA, is a UAV's inability to see-and-avoid other aircraft operating in their flight area. When a UAV's operator loses contact with the aircraft, for example, the drone is supposed to execute a preprogrammed plan to land at a specified location -- but no one is in control to bring it safely out of the TFR and away from other aircraft.

FMI: www.faa.gov, www.aopa.org

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