AOPA Cites High Operating Costs, May Conflict With Existing GA
The cost of operating
unmanned aerial vehicles along the border may not be a good idea
for a few reasons, according to the Aircraft Owners and Pilots
Association (AOPA) -- and one of those reasons has little
to do with the UAVs' impact on general aviation.
In testimony last week before a hearing looking into the
feasibility of UAV patrols along the US-Mexico border, Rep. Bennie
Thompson received a surprising answer to a simple question: are
UAVs cheaper to fly than comparable manned aircraft?
Not necessarily, according to Department of Homeland Security
Inspector General Richard Skinner. According to his written
testimony, one UAV requires a crew of up to 20 support personnel.
In fact, the operating cost is more than double that of a manned
The Hermes UAV, for example, costs $1,351 per flight hour to
operate, while a Cessna 182 with one pilot would be about $200 an
hour. And while a UAV offers the ability to remain in the air for
up to 20 hours, its usefulness is limited by cloud cover, icing,
and thunderstorms -- as is a Cessna's.
As has been reported in
Aero-News, UAV proponents along the border have
stressed the cost/benefit angle, stating the unmanned vehicles keep
Border Patrol officers away from harm while offering operating
costs comparable to the Patrol's current fleet of aircraft.
And then, of course, is
the potential impact UAVS may have on current general aviation
traffic. AOPA has been advocating a "seamless integration" of UAVs,
fearing that they may not mix well with existing general aviation
aircraft already using the airspace.
AOPA has been raising those concerns with members of Congress,
including Thompson, who is the ranking Democrat on the Homeland
"In all of our interactions with federal officials, including
AOPA's representation on the RTCA UAV special committee, we have
insisted that unmanned aerial vehicles must not have a negative
impact on general aviation operations," said Andy Cebula, AOPA
senior vice president of government and technical affairs. "They
should be certified to the same level of safety as piloted aircraft
and should reliably sense and avoid other aircraft."
AOPA has also opposed creating restrictive airspace for UAV
operations. A 15 nautical mile-wide TFR along the US southern
border, for example, would impact more than 100 airports, more than
1,300 based aircraft, and nearly 750,000 annual general aviation