U.S. opening up airspace to use of drones


Privacy is a concern as FAA sets rules to take flights out of just military purview

By Irene Klotz

After more than 40 years of development and extensive use by the military, the United States has set the date when the nation’s airspace will be open for drones. Should you be scared?

Short answer: No, but like any new technology, unmanned aerial vehicles have their dark side.

Legislation passed by Congress last week gives the Federal Aviation Administration until Sept. 30, 2015, to open the nation’s skies to drones.

The first step comes in 90 days when police, firefighters and other civilian first-response agencies can start flying UAVs weighing no more than 4.4 pounds, provided they meet still-to-be-determined requirements, such as having an operator on the ground within line-of-sight of the drone and flying it at least 400 feet above ground.

Currently, UAVs can only fly in restricted airspace zones controlled by the U.S. military.

By May 2013, the next class of drones, those weighing less than 55 pounds, can fly the nation’s skies, according to provisions of the FAA bill passed by Congress and signed by President Barack Obama last week.

The deadline for full integration of drones into U.S. airspace is Sept. 30, 2015.

Rules about where and when drones can fly and who can operate them are still under development. And there are still technical hurdles, such as setting up the bandwidth for secure UAV radio communications and refining collision avoidance systems, said NASA program manager Chuck Johnson of the Dryden Flight Research Center at Edwards, Calif.

But the most pressing issues are privacy concerns and public perceptions.

“Right now, under current U.S. laws there are very few restrictions on our ability to take pictures or videos of individuals outside,” Harley Geiger, a policy attorney with the Center for Democracy and Technology in Washington, D.C., told Discovery News.

“Some of the privacy issues that we see with drones are very different than the sort of surveillance that can be conducted with a helicopter. Drones can quietly watch an entire town without refueling. It can conduct a pervasive and secret surveillance that helicopters cannot match,” Geiger said.

“You can’t avoid it if you’re outside unless you take cover. People don’t want to be on YouTube whenever they go outside,” he added.

That’s not to say that governments, companies and individuals shouldn’t use drones.

“We’re not standing in the way of drone technology. We are saying that there needs to be privacy and transparency rules for its use. Otherwise the American people are going to enter a rather dark period in terms of physical surveillance,” Geiger said.

That could include, for example, having drone operators’ licenses and mission information publicly available online.

Gretchen West, executive vice president with Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International trade group, says drones will have very specific missions, not widespread surveillance.

“It doesn’t mean these aircraft are flying throughout the nation’s airspace. They’ll be used for law enforcement, to monitor traffic, for search and rescue and to track suspects,” she said.

On the commercial side, drones have a huge benefit for the oil and gas industry, agriculture, environmental monitoring and disaster surveillance, she added.

“It’s not meant to sit over someone’s house and take video,” West told Discovery News.

“The new regulations open up the airspace a little bit so we can start collecting more data,” she said. “Because they’ve been regulated so heavily by the FAA and the military, there’s not a lot of information for the FAA to get to make the regulations.”

© 2012 Discovery Channel

In memory of Bob Hawkins


Robert Hawkins (1919 – 2011)

Robert Lee “Bob” Hawkins

POCOMOKE CITY — Robert Lee Hawkins, 92, of Pocomoke City went to be with the Lord on Tuesday, Nov. 8, 2011, as a result of injuries suffered in an automobile collision.

Born on June 29, 1919, in Adrian, Mo., he was a son of the late Lora Wright Hawkins and Bryan Wesley Hawkins. His mother passed away when Bob was a teenager and his father married Anna Belle Brown.

After graduating high school, Bob proudly served his country in the U.S. Navy, retiring as a highly decorated senior chief. Following his military service, he entered a career with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, from  which he also retired.

Bob was dedicated to his family, country, community and First Baptist Church. He faithfully served the Pocomoke City community as a councilman from 1988 until his death, as well as many other civic activities. He proudly served on the board of the NASA Federal Credit Union and as chairman of the supervisory committee since 1982. He taught junior golf at the Winter Quarters golf course in Pocomoke City, served on the Planning and Zoning Commission, the Salvation Army board, Kiwanis Club, Tri County Council, Fleet Reserve, Worcester County Commision on Aging, Shriners and just about every one of Pocomoke City Police Department’s community activity programs.

He is survived by his loving, caring and devoted wife of 65 wonderful years, Betty; four children, Carol Smith and her husband, Jim, Robert Hawkins and his wife, Linda, Bryan Hawkins and Debbie Hickman and her husband, Bill; six grandchildren and their spouses, Chris and Tracy Small, Angie and Heath Bunting, Lisa and Carroll Skinner, Bryan and Hillary Hickman, Brent and Kasey Hickman and Brett Hawkins; 12 great-grandchildren, which he loved and enjoyed dearly; a brother, Kent Hawkins; and two sisters Sandra Thomas and Linda Moore.

In addition to his parents, he was preceded in death by one brother, Jack Hawkins, and one sister, JoAgnes Brown.

A funeral service, including military honors, will be held at 2 p.m. Sunday at Pocomoke High School, 1817 Old Virginia Road, Pocomoke City, where the doors will open at 1 p.m. for seating. Interment will be private. The family will greet friends at the Pocomoke City Community Center, 1410 Market St., following the service.

In lieu of flowers, memorial contributions can be made to First Baptist Church, 204 Fourth St., Pocomoke City, Md. 21851.

Arrangements are in the care of Holloway Funeral Home PA, 107 Vine St., Pocomoke City, Md. 21851.To send condolences to the family visit www.hollowayfh.com.