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Wed, May 30, 2007

Florida Police Dept. Seeks FAA Approval To Deploy UAV

Cyberbugs May Be Coming To City Near You

The police force of Palm Bay, FL wants to use an unmanned aerial vehicle to assist with its work, but the Federal Aviation Administration says the department needs its certificate of approval first.

The department has put the purchase of the $38,000 Cyberbug aircraft on hold pending FAA approval, but will proceed with plans to apply for limited authorization to fly the drone and train personnel, according to Florida Today.

"I'm going to see what happens and take it from there," Deputy Chief Doug Muldoon said. "Obviously, we think that with the (unmanned aerial vehicle) there's a lot that can happen with this."

The FAA will be meeting next month with the developers of Cyberbug, Petersburg, FL-based Cyber Defense Systems, which has sold other unmanned air crafts to federal agencies. The two entities met recently to review the company's operating manuals and technical specifications on the Cyberbug.

"They're coming back in June to watch a flight demonstration," said Jim Alman, a spokesman for Cyber Defense. "That's just the first step in a long process."

This isn't the first time the Cyberbug -- a small, hand-launched, hang glider-like aircraft -- has attracted attention. As ANN reported last year, the police department in Gaston County, NC began flying the UAVs in support of law enforcement operations. The FAA later ruled the aircraft could only be flown at altitudes below 400 feet AGL, to keep the aircraft from conflicting with manned aerial traffic.

Palm Bay police plan to use the laptop-operated aircraft to assist with such activities as locating missing persons and providing overhead surveillance, Muldoon said.

Just as before in Gaston County, Palm Bay Police Chief William Berger's plan raised red flags at the Aircraft Owners and Pilot's Association, which is concerned the UAV will cause problems in navigable airspace.

"For that reason, AOPA has opposed their operation in several different jurisdictions. The association... contacted the FAA, which informed the Palm Bay police department that they could not operate the UAV without a certificate of authorization," said the aviation association.

AOPA contends the small, radio-controlled drones fall into "a regulatory gray area."

"Some small UAVs can be operated under the provisions of Advisory Circular 91-57, "Model Aircraft Operating Standards," which require the drones to remain clear of navigable airspace and below 400 feet agl," said the association. Since it "is capable of operating at altitudes that put it in navigable airspace, creating a potential midair collision hazard," the AOPA will continue to object to its civilian uses.

"Because of their relatively low cost, we can expect that many more jurisdictions may try to put these collision hazards aloft," said Melissa Rudinger, AOPA vice president of regulatory affairs. "That's why AOPA will continue to push the FAA to take clear, explicit regulatory control."

Palm Bay PD would be one of the first municipal law enforcement agencies in the United States to use a UAV.

Alman made the recommendation Palm Bay PD to apply for the limited certificate of authorization so it will be prepared if and when the FAA issues its approval.

"If they get the certificate of authorization for training, then they can purchase the unmanned aircraft, then get an expanded approval," Alman said. "They'll already have their training, flight time and whatever else."

FMI: www.cyberdefensesystems.com, www.aopa.org, Palm Bay Police Department

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