Pressure Mounts To Expand UAS Use

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Pilots may be uneasy about sharing the airspace with unmanned aircraft systems, but the FAA is feeling increasing pressure to speed its approval of UAS use. Officials in Texas want more UASs patrolling the border with Mexico, and Sen. John Cornyn has been blocking a Senate vote to approve Michael Huerta, a nominee for the number-two slot at the FAA, as a pressure tactic. "There is a tremendous pressure and need to fly unmanned aircraft in [civilian] airspace," Hank Krakowski, FAA's head of air traffic operations, said recently, The Associated Press reports. "We are having constant conversations and discussions, particularly with the Department of Defense and the Department of Homeland Security, to figure out how we can do this safely with all these different sizes of vehicles."

Interest is growing in a broad range of uses for UAS, including aerial photography, surveying, monitoring forest fires, law enforcement, and protecting borders and ports. In the U.S. alone, approximately 50 companies, universities, and government organizations are developing and producing some 155 unmanned aircraft designs, the FAA says. But despite the growing pressure to expedite the introduction of UASs to the National Airspace System, the FAA said it is "focused on keeping safety the top priority." The agency recently signed an agreement with Insitu, a UAS developer, to conduct research needed to guide the development of recommendations for integrating UASs into the national airspace. The FAA will use the Insitu ScanEagle UAS to research how an air traffic controller manages an unmanned aircraft versus a manned aircraft.