The FAA has received applications from more than 60 agencies, police departments and public universities to fly drones in the U.S. The list includes The North Little Rock Police Department, Kansas State University and The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). Once an agency is approved, it is granted permission to perform limited operations outside restricted airspace. You can see the most current list here.
Some agencies are more than willing to discuss the future use of drones. NOAA’s Unmanned Aircraft Systems Program Director Robbie Hood had a detailed response to our questions about how the agency might use drones in Missouri. Hood is a Neosho native and University of Missouri graduate. She wrote, “Our goal will be to improve the lead-time and accuracy of tornado warnings for the citizens of Missouri and others across the United States.”
Hood explained that she leads a team, “working with NOAA scientists to see what benefits UAS observations offer for improving our understanding and prediction of changes in our climate, weather, oceans and coasts. We have explored many aspects of new UAS capabilities from high altitude, long endurance UAS such as the Global Hawk to observe high impact weather events such as hurricanes far out at sea to low altitude, short endurance UAS such as the Puma to provide real-time imagery of the marine and coastal conditions of our national marine sanctuaries.”
Hood goes on to write, “As the FAA begins to approve more UAS flights in National Air Space over land, we will have more opportunities to explore how UAS can serve the National Weather Service with improved real-time observations of rapidly changing weather events such as severe thunderstorms, tornadoes and flooding or the localized weather conditions of wildfires and other disasters. The release of small UAS from the ground or larger high altitude UAS carrying advanced weather radars are examples of the kind of UAS technologies we are investigating for future testing to improve measurements of extreme tornado wind conditions.”
Other agencies are not willing to talk publicly about their possible use of drones. In an email request for information to The United States Department of Agriculture we asked how the department would use drones in Missouri. Spokesperson Matthew Herrick wrote the, “USDA does not use unmanned aircraft for any reason.” KY3 then asked for an explanation for why The USDA was on the FAA’s list of “Certificate of Waiver of Authorization” to potentially operate Unmanned Aircraft Systems. Herrick responded simply, “I don’t (have any further comment). Thanks.”
Meantime, private industry can also apply for permission to operate drones. Private operators are required to get a “Special Airworthiness Certificate, Experimental Category.” The FAA says private companies must demonstrate that their unmanned aircraft system can operate safely within an assigned flight test area and cause no harm to the public. The federal government is working to open civilian airspace to them by 2015.
The FAA has an informational webpage set up where you can track the latest on the FAA’s definition of an Unmanned Aircraft System, who can fly one, where they can fly the aircraft and even what size drone is permitted. One frequently asked question involves model aircraft. The FAA says you don’t need approval to fly model aircraft writing, “model aircraft flights should be kept below 400 feet above ground level (AGL), should be flown a sufficient distance from populated areas and full scale aircraft, and are not for business purposes.”
For other frequently asked questions and basic information look for the UAS program here.