All of CBP’s drones fly over either water or sparsely populated areas. Since 2004, they have experienced only two major problems: one was when a drone crashed in Arizona in 2007 after its remote pilot inadvertently shut off the aircraft’s fuel supply, and the other was when the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) and CBP grounded the latter’s UAVs for six days in 2010 after temporary loss of communications with a drone over Texas, according to the CRS.
The annual procurement budget for the military’s UAV force is expected to drop by a third from 2009 to 2019, according to an analysis by the Government Electronics Industry Association reported by Military & Aerospace Electronics. Lawmakers representing districts where UAV technology generates jobs want to see procurement levels hold or rise, rather than decline. For example, the state of North Dakota has adopted UAV technology as an economic development engine, with support from the state’s congressional delegation in Washington, D.C.
The University of North Dakota (UND) became the first college in the country to offer a degree program in unmanned aerial systems, and this year UND signed an agreement with defense contractor L-3 Communications to develop training and simulation systems.
The Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee’s Subcommittee on Aviation Operations, Safety, and Security recently held a field hearing in North Dakota on FAA efforts to safely broaden the airspace available to unmanned military aircraft. At the hearing, David Ahern of the Office of the Undersecretary of Defense for Acquisition, Technology, and Logistics testified that the Pentagon is working with other agencies to establish a regulatory framework for expanded UAV airspace access.
Also testifying was Hank Krakowski, COO of the FAA’s Air Traffic Organization. He indicated that his agency was not yet convinced that the technology could be used safely in the national airspace system (NAS) over densely populated areas.
“While UAVs offer a promising new technology, the limited safety and operational data available to date does not yet support expedited or full integration into the NAS,” Krakowski testified. He added, “Because current available data is insufficient to allow unfettered integration of [UAVs] into the NAS—where the public travels every day—the FAA must continue to move forward deliberately and cautiously, in accordance with our safety mandate.”