November 10, 2013, 7:08 PM — Government and industry will need to overcome significant challenges, including those related to privacy and security, before commercial drone aircraft can be safely introduced over national airspace, the Federal Aviation Administration said Thursday as it released a roadmap for drone integration in the U.S.
The roadmap ( download PDF) addresses a list of policies, regulations, technologies and procedures that need to fall into place for the FAA to start issuing licenses to commercial drone operators in large numbers. It establishes requirements that drone operators and others in the industry have to meet to obtain a commercial operator's license for drones, or unmanned aerial vehicles.
U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx described the roadmap "as an important step forward that will help stakeholders understand the operational goals and safety issues we need to consider when planning for the future of our airspace."
The Federal Aviation Administration Modernization and Reform Act of 2012, signed into law by President Barack Obama last year requires the FAA to implement rules and procedures for licensing drone use by government agencies, commercial entities, hobbyists and others.
Over the next few years, thousands of unmanned aerial vehicles of varying sizes and capabilities are expected to be in use over the U.S., doing everything from fugitive tracking to rail surveillance, traffic management, crop monitoring, land management, news reporting and filmmaking.
Privacy and civil rights groups have expressed alarm over the privacy implications of widespread drone use -- especially by government and law enforcement agencies. They argue that drones equipped with high-tech cameras and listening devices would be able to conduct unprecedented and persistent surveillance of civilians. Concerns has also been raised about air safety issues arising from the use of thousands of drones over domestic airspace.
Drone advocates have downplayed such concerns and maintain that the potential benefits of the technology far outweigh the risks.
Thursday's roadmap highlights some of the challenges that need to be navigated before either side has a chance to find out the impact large-scale use of commercial drones will have in the U.S.
Among those issues are standards for ensuring that unmanned aircraft are capable of sensing and avoiding other aircraft near them and policies and procedures for operators of drone aircraft to communicate with and respond to air traffic controllers.