The attached article Drones in Civilian Airspace, regarding unmanned drones over Florida is disturbing for many reasons, the civil liberties issue being just one of them.
The pilot community is united in its concerns over aviation safety. One potential threat is a mid-air collision with other manned aircraft, and there are a variety of tools we use to minimize that risk.
Adding up to 30,000 unmanned drones to the US Civil Airspace System, controlled only by someone with a joystick on the ground, creates a whole new risk to aviation safety. Drones are detrimental to the health and welfare of not only pilots and their passengers, but also to the general public beneath the skies.
Drone aircraft do have limited vision technology of course, but pilots under Visual Flight Rules (VFR) must utilize “see and avoid” tactics as a primary method of avoiding other aircraft. We also have the ability to work with Air Traffic Control for traffic separation from other civilian and military aircraft.
The military already owns very large chunks of airspace over the United States. This airspace is well charted, and pilots are easily able to avoid conflict with military aircraft simple by avoiding those charted MOAs and Restricted Areas. Drone activity should be limited exclusively to that published airspace.
In the case of unmanned aircraft, these drones will be mixing with civilian aircraft, both public and private, in “free airspace”. Yet, there is no plan that these drone aircraft will be integrated into the Air Traffic Control system, whereby piloted aircraft will have a fighting chance to avoid them, Even so, adding 30,000 unmanned aircraft to the ATC system would overwhelm it. There is also no plan to ensure the general public is protected from falling debris should a mid-air occur.
With good flight visibility, a pilot can typically see another single engine aircraft, at most, two or three miles away. Both pilots have a vested interest in seeing each other before a collision occurs. At typical closure rates, there is sufficient time to visually avoid any conflict.
Not so with unmanned aircraft. Some of these drones are very small in size, and will not be seen in visually until they are too close, or more likely, not at all. Be assured, at a closure rate of up to 200 MPH with a typical small or medium size aircraft, these drones can and will inflict airplanes with catastrophic damage. While the pilot and passengers will likely pay for any mistakes with their lives, the drone operator on the ground will still go home to his family after his shift.
Drones have been a good tool for our military over Afghanistan and in patrolling our borders, but there is no valid reason to deploy them over the American civilian population. Do we really want every Podunk police department in the country with their own drone air force in the skies?
If a few geese can bring down an airliner into the Hudson, think of what a drone encounter can to do an aircraft. The risk on many levels well exceeds any anticipated benefit.