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
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and the TFR is no longer in effect.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
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
AOPA also hopes the FAA will take a lesson from the accident,
and reconsider its views on UAVs
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.