Altair/Predator B (courtesy of NASA)
In the wake of an unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) crash last month, Congress has taken action on the program's future by tightening at least some of its purse strings. The House Appropriations Committee on Wednesday passed a homeland security funding bill that would withhold $6.8 million in UAV funds until U.S. Customs and Border Protection reports on the findings of the crash investigation.
"While the federal government definitely sees UAVs in the future as part of its overall homeland security and border patrol plan, this sends a clear signal that there are safety concerns," said Andy Cebula, AOPA executive vice president of government affairs. "AOPA members want UAVs to be certified just like manned aircraft, and the simple answer of restricting the airspace through TFRs [temporary flight restrictions] is not acceptable."
But the recent bill would only affect funding for fiscal year 2007, which begins next October 1. Because the UAV program has funding from the 2006 budget, UAV operations could resume before that date.
AOPA, meanwhile, has been alerting Congress to the dangers UAVs pose to civilian aircraft. In March Cebula testified before the House aviation subcommittee, asking that UAVs be certified to the same requirements as civilian aircraft, including the ability to safely detect and avoid other aircraft.
Echoing these concerns, Rep. Marion Berry (D-Ark.) in April used up his allotted time during a homeland security subcommittee (of the House Appropriations Committee) hearing to make sure government officials were responding to general aviation issues.
May 19, 2006