Monday, June 14, 2010

Drones and Droning

Sometimes you have to wonder about the things you read in the paper (or on the ‘net, as the case may be.)

FAA under pressure to open US skies to drones

”Last year, the FAA promised defense officials it would have a plan this year. The agency, which has worked on this issue since 2006, has reams of safety regulations that govern every aspect of civilian aviation but is just beginning to write regulations for unmanned aircraft.”

The FAA “promised”? That was a heck of a promise (if true). Let’s think about this for two seconds (because that’s about all it takes.) Vast portions of the United States’ National Airspace uses “see and avoid” as a basis for aircraft-to-aircraft separation. (I could make a compelling case that “see and avoid” is used in all U.S. airspace. No matter.) With no other information, you’ve reached a decision point. Either drones learn to “see and avoid” or they operate only in restricted airspace.

This presents a (somewhat) technologically-amusing problem. The tech wizards that like to beat up on the FAA for its lack of technology are now trying to pressure the FAA into letting their technologically-lacking drones into the National Airspace System. Oh, I realize some of these drones (UAVs) are technological wonders. But as controllers have been trying to tell everyone for years, there is still no substitute for people.

At the risk of seeming smug -- but to make my point -- if the tech wizards are so smart, figure out a way to “see and avoid” instead of asking the FAA to change the entire NAS to meet your product’s technological shortcomings. Yeah, it will be expensive. Yes, I realize that “less expensive” is the majority of the “business model”. I’m betting that most of the life-saving operations of drones can be accomplished with restricted airspace. That means it boils down to money -- to those pesky, expensive humans.

Can’t you just imagine how Fred Smith dreams of the day he can replace the few union workers he has?

Don Brown
June 14, 2010


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