Predator Border Patrol Accident Worries Congress

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Congress has trimmed funding for the deployment of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) for border patrol duties until someone can explain what caused a Predator UAV to crash a few hundred feet from a home near Rio Rico, AZ, last month. (Thanks to Randy, an AVweb reader, for those details.) As AVweb reported, the UAV went out of control in the early morning of April 25 while scanning for drug runners and illegal immigrants. Cause of the crash wasn't immediately known. According to AOPA, funding appropriations of $6.8 million for 2007 were cut by Congress until U.S. Customs and Border Protection releases a report on the crash. However, funding from the 2006 budget is still in place and UAVs could theoretically be back in the air until Oct. 1, when the new budget takes over. AOPA maintains that until UAVs have the same abilities to see and avoid other traffic as manned aircraft, they shouldn't be mixing with the rest of us. The FAA agrees but its method of ensuring safety is to impose temporary flight restriction (TFRs) over areas in which the UAV is operating, something AOPA also naturally opposes. According to Strategy Page, an online military news service, it will be three or four years before UAVs with sensors advanced enough to meet FAA collision-avoidance standards will be available and it may use tethered aerostats (similar to blimps) to fill the gaps.