...Flights Are Closely Monitored, Border Patrol Says...

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Collision-avoidance concerns underwent an extensive review prior to deployment, and precautions are in place, U.S. Border Patrol spokesman Roger Maier told AVweb last week. The approval process requires that the UAV operator satisfy the FAA that the UAV provides an "equivalent level of safety" compared to a manned aircraft. The UAVs now are flying pre-programmed routes that are filed 24 hours in advance with airspace officials, added Andy Adame, spokesman for the Border Patrol's Tucson sector. Both FAA and military air traffic controllers in the region are informed of the route in detail, Adame said. The UAVs are equipped with onboard cameras that provide around-the-clock images in real time to ground control stations, which are monitored constantly, he said. For nighttime observations, the UAV has a thermal imaging unit (compared to the human eye's own unaided night vision). The UAVs also can be operated by remote control. The Hermes 450 drones are flying at about 9,000 to 13,000 feet. The can fly up to 95 knots, and weigh about 1,000 pounds each. The goal is to keep one in the air 24 hours a day, Adame said, with the two aircraft taking turns. They are intended to detect illegal immigration as well as smuggling operations. This is the first non-military use of UAVs for border protection.