US Looks to Grant Drones Airspace—Next to Your Plane

Civilian law enforcement and others increasingly want flying robots

By Kevin Spak,  Newser Staff

Posted Feb 7, 2012 7:00 AM CST

(Newser) – Drones aren't just for Afghanistan, Pakistan, Yemen, or Somalia anymore—they're coming to the good old US of A. The Senate sent a bill to President Obama yesterday that would require the Federal Aviation Administration to come up with rules to safely regulate domestic drones, USA Today reports. Civilian demand is already starting to heat up for various flying robots, which now come in a host of shapes and sizes, are surprisingly cost effective, and would occupy the same airspace as passenger planes.

A Mesa County, Colo., sheriff's department, for instance, already has FAA permission to use a 2-pound helicopter drone to take pictures of crime scenes. The drone costs roughly $36,000—less than a new squad car. Analysts expect the civilian drone market to hit $11.3 billion over the next decade, which has pilots and others worried about safety—especially after instances like an August crash in Afghanistan involving a drone and a C-130 cargo plane. "It's about coming up with a plan where everybody can get along," says a professor helping to draft the new regulations. "Nobody wants to cause an accident."

This Dec. 17, 2011 photo shows a K-MAX pilotless freight helicopter  in Camp Dwyer, Afghanistan.
This Dec. 17, 2011 photo shows a K-MAX pilotless freight helicopter in Camp Dwyer, Afghanistan.   (AP Photo/U.S. Marines, Justin M. Boling)
A US RQ-170 Sentinel drone captured by Iranian forces is shown in this file photo from the Revolutionary Guard.
A US RQ-170 Sentinel drone captured by Iranian forces is shown in this file photo from the Revolutionary Guard.   (AP Photo/Sepahnews)
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