Thanks to the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), police in Arlington, Texas have been cleared to fly two small helicopter drones, joining the countless other public entities that have already been given permission to fly drones over the United States.
Domestic drone use is disturbingly common already with Customs and Border Protection flying eavesdropping-enabled drones, US Marshals using drones, National Guard units using drones, the military using drones in concert with law enforcement and so many more that universities and colleges are offering more drone piloting programs to keep up with the drone boom.
The drones had been tested by Arlington police all the way back in 2011 after they purchased the drones with federal grant money, but only after getting the FAA authorization were they allowed to fly outside of the training area along with the many others flying drones domestically.
While Gizmag points out that there are restrictions on the drone flights, in that they “must fly under 400 feet, only in the daytime, be in sight of the operator and a safety observer, and be in contact with the control tower at the nearby Dallas-Fort Worth airport – one of the busiest in the country,” one must wonder how much they will stick to those restrictions given that commercial drone operators regularly flout federal regulations.
The federal grant came from the Department of Homeland Security – itself quite fascinated with small drones – to support Superbowl security, according to Gizmag.
Gizmag cites the “more than 80 entities” figure when talking about how many entities have applied to the FAA for authorization to fly drones – based on the most recent documents obtained by the Electronic Frontier Foundation – but in reality the number is much higher.
“Citing privacy and security concerns, the FAA does not disclose information about which government entities or publicly funded universities have certificates of authorization,” wrote Susan Schrock for the Star-Telegram in an article discussing Arlington’s drones.
“But spokesman Les Dorr said 327 certificates of operation are active in the U.S.,” Schrock added.
While that higher number is more accurate, there are many discrepancies between the various publicly known lists and most notably, it does not include the unknown number of classified drone authorizations. That number has not even been released to individuals in Congress.
These particular drones, Leptron Avengers, are made in Utah and capable of flying for about an hour on one battery change.
They’re only five feet long, leading Arlington police spokeswoman Tiara Richard to emphasize that they “aren’t military grade. They’re somewhere in between that and remote-control helicopters that are used recreationally.”
According to Arlington police department’s Sgt. Christopher Cook, the drones will “only be used in situations that a manned helicopter would be used, and will not be used for police pursuits or for traffic enforcement.”
Instead, they will be used in situations like looking for a missing person or taking aerial photographs of a crime scene, according to the department.
“We basically have permission to operate our small helicopter program in certain areas of the City, generally south of Interstate Highway 30, once a clearly defined incident perimeter has been established,” Cook said, according to Gizmag.
“We are working with our local airports which have airspace within the confines of the City of Arlington to create letters of agreement so there will be a seamless transition once a decision is made to deploy the equipment,” Cook added.
Gizmag notes that the authorization drone use in Arlington is quite important because Arlington is a major urban area with a large population and is home to Dallas-Fort Worth International, one of the U.S.’s largest airports.
If the program in Arlington is successful, or at least claimed to be, it is not hard to see it used as an argument for wider integration in other urban areas with large airports as well.
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