Sunday, January 5, 2014

Texas Drones to Add to U.S. Endemic Surveillance State?

The United States of America will allow domestic drone use and Texas will serve as one of six pilot sites.  The Eagle reported:

The Federal Aviation Administration has named Texas a test site for aerial drones thanks to a statewide proposal spearheaded by Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi. The university, which partnered with the Texas Engineering Experiment Station in College Station, or TEES, is one of six entities nationwide selected for the designation that could help usher in a multibillion-dollar industry.

The FAA does not allow for commercial drone use, which is primarily known for military applications. But Congress mandated that operational guidelines be developed by the end of 2015. FAA Administrator Michael Huerta predicted that up to 7,500 commercial drones could operate in U.S. airspace within the next five years. One such application is a proposed package-delivery system unveiled by earlier this month.
Military applications include spying and summary execution.  Drones have been operating in the U.S. by public and private organizations. Texas is not alone in the prospect of more unmanned aerial vehicles:

The FAA announced Monday that A&M was selected along with the University of Alaska, the state of Nevada, New York's Griffiss International Airport, the North Dakota Department of Commerce and the Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University (Virginia Tech).
While Texas A&M-Corpus Christi President Flavius Killebrew called it a "Kitty Hawk moment," it feels anything but.

Just hours after the FAA’s announcement Monday, commissioners in West Texas’ Brewster County passed a resolution plainly stating that unmanned aerial systems are not welcome in their skies, citing a lack of public input in the state’s drone plans. It is the third such resolution passed by local Texas officials since November, underscoring a growing anti-drone sentiment that has taken hold around the state, particularly in rural areas like Big Bend, a sparsely populated region located along the Mexican border. 

In Alpine, Brewster County’s biggest (and only) city, council members recently voted unanimously to ban drone test flights from operating out of the municipal airport, responding to angry petitions from local residents. And just before Christmas, officials in neighboring Presidio County followed suit with a preemptive resolution demanding that any drone tests take local aviation priorities into account before operating in the region.

The local resistance presents a significant roadblock for Texas’s new UAS testing program, a statewide initiative that was selected by the FAA to to develop safety requirements and protocols for commercial drone operations. The plan, spearheaded by Texas A&M University at Corpus Christi, includes 11 test regions that cover about 6,100 square miles across the state, about half of which are located in the Big Bend region. Initially, the public seemed supportive of the proposal, but in recent weeks a surprisingly fierce grassroots campaign against the test sites has gathered steam, driven by residents who fear experimental drone flights will clog local airspace and disrupt the quiet isolation of Big Bend’s open skies.
 People don't like surprises, especially when their voice has not been included:

So far, little effort has been made to inform or include local residents and elected officials in the UAS test site process. While FAA spokesman Les Dorr declined to comment on the specifics of the Texas UAS opposition, he said that the selected test sites are responsible for getting locals on board with their drone plans, and were required to detail their outreach plans in their applications.

But those applications were closely guarded by the FAA during the administration’s secretive vetting process, and many communities are only discovering that they will soon play host to the government’s first commercial drone experiment. 
More drones are coming to Texas but local officials will have some say in their level of participation.  Which list will officials make if they don't open their arms wide for domestic drone use in their city or county?  For citizen privacy the drone test site landscape is the wild, wild West.