Friday, July 18, 2014

Alaska: "Open Season" for Drone Use?

UAF unmanned aircraft program expands to Iceland!!
Some of the discussion of drones takes for granted that expansive states such as Alaska should be "open season" for drone use.

That certainly seems to be what the FAA thinking when it designated the University of Alaska one of six test sites within the United States for civilian use of unmanned aerial vehicles (drones): "The University of Alaska proposal contained a diverse set of test site range locations in seven climatic zones as well as geographic diversity with test site range locations in Hawaii and Oregon. The research plan includes the development of a set of standards for unmanned aircraft categories, state monitoring and navigation. Alaska also plans to work on safety standards for UAS operations." (See Fact Sheet – FAA UAS Test Site Program)

Here's the backstory on that announcement:

H.R. 658, the FAA reauthorization bill, mandates that the FAA must designate six UAV test ranges in U.S. airspace within about six months. But a special clause, and the one most important to Alaska, will designate portions of airspace from the Aleutian Islands to the North Slope for 24-hour UAV use "for research and commercial purposes."

The amendment was written by Alaska Sen. Mark Begich, with the University of Alaska Unmanned Aircraft Program in mind. That program, based at the University of Alaska Fairbanks Geophysical Institute, has been on the cutting-edge of UAV technology, thanks to Alaska's myriad uses for the science.

(See "Unmanned aerial drones the future of Arctic reconnaissance?" in Alaska Dispatch News by Ben Anderson, February 13, 2012 )

However, people in Alaska are as concerned about surveillance by drone -- as well as the U.S. policy of drone killing around the world -- as those in the rest of the country.

The first step is a ban on drones in national parks.  Despite the contention of some that this ban "fixes a problem that doesn't exist," people would do well to consider the ramifications of drone proliferation before declaring "open season."

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