Unmanned aircraft available to Dallas-Fort Worth area departments, colleges, businesses

by Marthe Stinton of Star Local News

Local departments, organizations, and universities are about to get a helping hand from Big Brother thanks to a new FAA reauthorization streamlining the application process for public agencies to fly drones in U.S. airspace.

According to the FAA, unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) promise new ways to increase efficiency, save money, enhance safety, and even save lives. Organizations are jumping on the unmanned bandwagon and interest is growing. So far, in the United States alone, approximately 50 companies, universities, and government organizations are developing and producing more than 155 unmanned aircraft designs.

“The closest is Arlington Police Department,” said Lynn Lunsford, mid-states public affairs manager for the FAA said. “But the FAA has several applications pending.”

Earlier this year, the FAA received more than 200 comments after asking for public input on the process for selecting six UAS test sites mandated by Congress through the National Defense Authorization Act and the 2012 FAA Reauthorization Bill, according to its website. As required by the 2012 FAA Reauthorization Bill, these six sites will provide data to the FAA to safely integrate UAS into the nation’s airspace by 2015.

UAS, or drones, have mainly supported military and security operations overseas, with training occurring in the United States. UAS are utilized in U.S. border and port surveillance by the Department of Homeland Security, scientific research and environmental monitoring by NASA and NOAA, public safety by law enforcement agencies, research by state universities, and various other uses by government agencies, according to FAA.gov.

The Carrollton Police Department isn’t among the government entities interested in the new technology. Doug Mitchell, the department’s spokesman, said the department has no current plans on obtaining a drone, but was familiar with Arlington’s use of its drone.

“The use of drones is no different than the current use of police airships — helicopters — and the use of helicopters by the news media,” Mitchell said. “The mission has remained the same. It is just a different vehicle doing the work.”

David Moore, public information officer for the Coppell Police Department, echoed Mitchell’s sentiments.

“At this time, we have no intentions of acquiring a drone,” Moore said. “It would not be cost-effective.”

The same cannot be said for Plano Police Department, which has looked into using drones, although it has no immediate plans to purchase one.

“There are two separate types of systems that we have looked into, but no decision has been made,” Tilley said. “We are in more of the research and development part of it, trying to find out if the drones are legit, if they are working, what their problems are, what is the required maintenance and what is the investment beyond the initial upfront purchase.”

Tilley said the department tries to remain state of the art in training, techniques, skills, and opportunities, but doesn’t want to spend money on unproven technology.

“We don’t want to make a wasteful investment on something that is not going to be beneficial,” he said. “We have a technology division within the police department that is always looking for new innovations in regards to law enforcement. We don’t ever want to be the beta testers, we want what we use to have some history and be able to talk to other agencies and find out what their experiences have been — good or bad.”