Earlier this year, Congress passed a bill that would open the sky to private, military and commercial drones by 2015. But news revealed through documents obtained by a Freedom of Information Act request shows for the first time who exactly is already authorized to fly drones in the United States.
The Calgary Herald reports the FOIA request made by the Electronic Frontier Foundation showed more than 50 non-military agencies have asked for approval to launch drones. The Daily Mail reported the FOIA revealed 63 active drone sites within the U.S — some of which may be surprising:
Most of the active drones are deployed from military installations, enforcement agencies and border patrol teams, according to the Federal Aviation Authority.
But, astonishingly, 19 universities and colleges are also registered as owners of what are officially known as unmanned aerial vehicles.
It is thought that many of institutions, which include Cornell, the University of Colorado, Georgia Tech, and Eastern Gateway Community College, are developing drone technology.
There are also 21 mainstream manufactures, such as General Atomics, who are registered to use drones domestically.
Of those with permission to fly drones domestically, the FAA has granted 42 public entities Certificates of Authorizations (COAs). Sixteen of COAs were reported to have expired and four were not approved. Private drone manufacturers, which are given Special Airworthiness Certificates (SAC), include 21 active locations and 17 inactive.
Here’s what the EFF says is left unanswered for now:
For example, the COA list does not include any information on which model of drone or how many drones each entity flies. In a meeting with the FAA [Thursday], the agency confirmed that there were about 300 active COAs and that the agency has issued about 700-750 authorizations since the program began in 2006. As there are only about 60 entities on the COA list, this means that many of the entities, if not all of them, have multiple COAs (for example, an FAA representative [Thursday] said that University of Colorado may have had as many as 100 different COAs over the last six years). The list also does not explain why certain COA applications were “disapproved” and when other authorizations expired.
See the full list of those with COAs here and the full list of those with SACs here. It is reported the FAA will soon release the type of drones at these locations in a second round of compliance to the FOIA.
As for the Federal Aviation Administration Reauthorization Act passed by Congress earlier this year, it is expected to be signed by President Barack Obama with measures for the regulation of testing and licensing of drones, according to Press TV. The news agency stated that some estimates believe the commercial drone market in the U.S. will be worth hundreds of millions of dollars, with more than 50 companies already developing more than 150 drone systems.
The Blaze has reported several instances where drone technology has already been becoming more mainstream for local police departments and by private drone hobbyists. In January, a Texas man flying his small unmanned aviation system spotted what he called a “huge stream of blood” coming from an animal packing plant, which he then reported to authorities. We’ve also reported on historian Francis Fukuyama’s interest in amateur drone operation. A separate FOIA request late last year revealed the New York Police Department’s counterterrorism division was looking to drones for law enforcement and an image later seen in Brooklyn showed drone activity was already in progress.
Note: This is story has been updated since its original posting to include more detailed information.