FAA regs render Forest Service drones flightless

SkySeer UAV

U.S. Forest Service purchased two drones in 2007, but reportedly have yet to get them off the ground.

Two drones purchased six years ago by the U.S. Forest Service for $100,000 have yet to be used, according to documents released by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility.

The drones, purchased in 2007 to monitor marijuana growers, have not been able to scope out cannabis fields or perform other duties because the Forest Service lacks both trained pilots and Federal Aviation Administration clearance, according to PEER, which obtained the documents via a Freedom of Information Act request.

The idea of using the drones to spot marijuana was abandoned in 2010, when the agency decided to use the aircraft for its Fire and Aviation program --but it has not yet been able to deploy the craft for that purpose, either. An FAA rule requiring that drones be in visual range of the remote pilot at all times makes their use for such activities problematic.

"The fire program has been tinkering with pilotless aircraft since 2005 when it spent $10,560 on a Cyber Bug drone to begin developing command and control capacity in fast-moving fires," according to a PEER press release. "The FAA, however, is still working on rules to open unrestricted airspace to commercial and institutional drone traffic."

About the Author

Reid Davenport is an FCW editorial fellow. Connect with him on Twitter: @ReidDavenport.

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