Ben Anderson Alaska Dispatch
Unmanned Aerial Vehicles, often referred to as “drones,” don’t get a lot of good press. Usually, when a drone makes the news, it’s just completed an airstrike somewhere across the world, likely in the Middle East, taking out a structure thought to contain al Qaeda militants.
But there’s a softer, friendlier side to UAVs — they’re not all the terrifying, death-from-above variety popularized in media. UAVs, thanks to their small size and ability to be controlled remotely, have been finding their niche doing jobs that are too messy, dangerous, or downright impossible for manned aircraft to perform.
Alaska’s big role in domestic drone programs
Now, a new, long-term Federal Aviation Administration bill aims to increase the number of UAVs in American airspace over the next four years, designating specific airspace for UAV flight and testing, similar to the restricted airspace utilized by military installations.
H.R. 658, the FAA reauthorization bill, mandates that the FAA must designate six UAV test ranges in U.S. airspace within about six months. But a special clause, and the one most important to Alaska, will designate portions of airspace from the Aleutian Islands to the North Slope for 24-hour UAV use “for research and commercial purposes.”
The amendment was written by Alaska Sen. Mark Begich, with the University of Alaska Unmanned Aircraft Program in mind. That program, based at the University of Alaska Fairbanks Geophysical Institute, has been on the cutting-edge of UAV technology, thanks to Alaska’s myriad uses for the science.