Brave new world of commercial drones cheered and scrutinized
By Brett Davis
August 07, 2012
LAS VEGAS—AUVSI’s Unmanned Systems North America 2012 kicked off on Monday, 6 Aug. with a variety of panels and workshops focusing on all domains of unmanned systems, from driverless cars to maritime systems to unmanned aircraft.
One workshop focused on using unmanned aircraft for public safety, including by police and fire fighters. Moderator Leonard Ligon noted that there are nearly 20,000 municipalities in the United States but only about 300 have aviation assets of any kind, fewer still with unmanned aircraft.
“Less than 8 percent of the United States right now has an aviation asset,” he said. That means opportunity for unmanned aircraft, as public safety officials think, “I can now have access to an asset that was never available to me in the past.”
However, he and other speakers warned that UAS training courses are sometimes not sufficient, and sometimes don’t take into account the needs of police or other public safety officials. Panelist said public safety officials who want to set up a UAS operation should look to outside agencies for help and support, including AUVSI, the Department of Justice and the Federal Aviation Administration’s Unmanned Systems Integration Office.
Douglas Gillespie, the sheriff of Clark County, home county to Las Vegas, warned that “if you don’t put the time and effort into the policies and procedures that are developed, and you don’t take the time to be transparent and open in those policies and procedures that are developed, you in fact will be that department … that will create those bad facts that will end up in court and then we will all have to live with the decisions that the courts make based on that case law.”
Gillespie said his office doesn’t have any unmanned aircraft, but would like to for a number of reasons, including to search for illicit marijuana crops without the expense of a manned helicopter.
Before unmanned aircraft operations become routine, they have to be integrated into the airspace of the United States and other countries around the world. Gerry Sayer, a former AUVSI president who has worked on airspace issues with the U.S. Air Force, described many efforts around the world to develop sense and avoid technology, a key enabler for routine safe flight.
“We’ve got to get the standards we can certify against so people will accept it,” he said. “But I do believe we can make it a reality this decade if all of you can participate.”