Drones are on the way

Evansville (Ind.) Courier & Press: Perhaps it’s a good thing we have made extensive, if controversial, use of drones in Afghanistan, Pakistan and Yemen, because it has allowed us to build up substantial expertise in operating the pilotless aircraft.

We’ll need that valuable experience at home because the Federal Aviation Administration has taken the first steps toward making drones a standard feature of the American skies — an estimated 10,000 in civilian use within five years, according to the FAA.

The agency began soliciting proposals for six drone sites scattered around the country. Plans are to start small, with drones weighing less than around 55 pounds. The Global Hawk, perhaps the drone most widely used in military operations, weighs 15,000 pounds without fuel or payload. However, there’s no technical reason a drone couldn’t be as large as a full-size airliner.

Small drones are in limited use in the United States now for law enforcement, border surveillance and academic research. Industry experts told The Associated Press they anticipate a multibillion-dollar market for civilian drones once the FAA finishes drafting regulations to ensure that the drones are designed and operated so they don’t create a hazard for other aircraft and population centers.

The FAA, too, has drafted a privacy policy.

The AP noted, “Privacy advocates worry that a proliferation of drones will lead to a ‘surveillance society’ in which the movements of Americans are routinely monitored, tracked, recorded and scrutinized by the authorities.”

It may not be too much of an exaggeration to say that the horse is already out of that barn.

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