NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Drones: Look to the Sky!

March 27, 2013

Unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV) also referred to as drones, have become more prevalent since their use began in the War on Terror. While great legal and moral debates surround military drone attacks executed in foreign countries, a wide variety of civilian applications are being developed. Discussion about drones should consider the civilian, commercial and scientific applications of drones, as well as limits on how this new technology can be used, says Evan Carr, a research associate with the National Center for Policy Analysis.

  • The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has a 2015 deadline for fully integrating drones into the National Airspace System (NAS) and must ensure that drones do not collide with manned flights or the ground.
  • Currently, the FAA has authorized a small number of government agencies and research universities to develop and operate UAVs and is accepting public comment on where to place six testing sites.
  • Drone development is decentralized, with small do-it-yourself teams building small drones and defense contractors manufacturing multimillion dollar defense, surveillance and attack drones.

Global spending on drones already accounted for $5.9 billion in 2012 and is projected to grow to $11.3 billion in annual spending by 2021.

  • Drones are being developed to aid agriculture and wildlife, monitor and fertilize crops and track wild animals, as well as take scientific measurements for earth science research.
  • UAVs have also aided the Department of Homeland Security with monitoring the border and drug interdiction, and could help domestic law enforcement with search and rescue, traffic monitoring and surveillance.
  • Drone technology might also be applied to the motion picture, telecommunications and energy industries.

Progress toward enabling these domestic capabilities is slowed by an array of technical problems that must be solved before drones can operate safely in the NAS.

  • New technologies must be developed that allow drones to autonomously detect other aircraft within their flight path and divert to avoid collision.
  • Global Positioning Satellite signals and the link between the ground and the UAV must also be secured.

American citizens are concerned that drone technology will be misused by the government. In order to move industry and growth forward, Congress must act to establish limitations on how drone technology can be used to gather information.

Source: Evan Carr, "Drones: Look to the Sky!" National Center for Policy Analysis, March 2013.


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