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Wed, Aug 08, 2007

Florida Cop Says FAA Isn't Working Fast Enough On UAVs

Accuses Agency Of Dragging Its Feet; FAA Says Caution Is Needed

A Florida police chief says local law enforcement officials need to do more to convince the FAA and others that unmanned aerial vehicles should be deployed on a much larger scale.

A speech given Tuesday by Donald Shinnamon, public safety director in Holly Hill, FL, before the Association of Unmanned Vehicle Systems International (AUVSI) annual conference, stressed the importance of UAVs to local police. Shinnamon also accused the FAA of stonewalling on adding such vehicles to more police and fire departments, according to Dow Jones Newswires.

"I really think the issue with the FAA is they don't have time to deal with this right now and they don't really understand public aircraft law," Shinnamon said in a post-speech interview.

The FAA responds a gradual phase-in for UAVs is required, in order to ensure safety and reliability. As ANN has reported, the agency is also under considerable pressure from pilots of manned aircraft, to make sure UAVs are safe to operate in a "see-and-avoid" environment.

Agency spokeswoman Laura Brown says a recent rescue effort in Oregon shows UAVs are by no means a silver bullet solution.

"In a recent search for missing hikers on Mount Hood, conditions were extreme and 11 out of 11 of the UAV flights that they attempted to launch crashed," Brown said, adding the FAA currently approves UAV operations by law enforcement and fire agencies on a case-by-case basis.

UAV proponents point out drones have been used with considerable success in hostile areas like Iraq and Afghanistan... but military officials also say problems have cropped up with mid-air collisions, and jammed signals.

Shinnamon -- who leads an aviation committee for the International Association of Chiefs of Police -- responds by saying UAVs used by police and fire personnel are considerably smaller than a Global Hawk, are usually hand-launched and typically fly less than 500 feet above ground. He feels such aircraft, which usually weigh around 20 lbs, wouldn't present much of a threat to other aircraft... or conflict with existing communications equipment.

He also questions the FAA's jurisdication over the issue. Shinnamon says he has sought assistance from lawmakers to helps grease the wheels for UAVs.

The FAA says it doesn't want to rush the process. "Our approach to unmanned aircraft follows the philosophy of 'do no harm,'" Brown said.

FMI: www.faa.gov, www.auvsi.org, www.theiacp.org/

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