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US authority set to release draft unmanned air vehicle airspace plan

The US Federal Aviation Administration's unmanned aircraft programme office (UAPO) is hoping to secure approvals for the release of its draft programme plan for unmanned air system integration into US airspace in the next fortnight.

A draft version is shortly to be put forward for approvals by senior FAA management.

The programme plan - previously referred to as a roadmap - has been in development since early 2006 and had originally been targeted for release in October last year.

Doug Davis, UAPO manager of the unmanned aircraft programme office, says that despite the change of name "it amounts to the same kind of content, the same kind of material".

Speaking at the Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International's Unmanned Systems North America conference on 7 August, Davis confirmed parallel work on a new policy allowing easier airspace access for small UAVs is also advancing. However, he warned that this is progressing at a slower pace due to manpower restraints.

"We are pursuing thisbut with my resource capability I can't pursue this as hard as I need to. To me the clear economic drivers for the next few years are in the smaller categories and we are pursuing some policy to free that up."

Davis also revealed that the programme office is planning to stage demonstrations of using UAVs in urban policing roles.

The initiative comes in response to continued pressure on the FAA by US local area police forces that want to introduce small UAVs in the near term.

"I am entering into test projects with two major metropolitan police departments to begin to look at the impact of this kind of capability a densely populated, heavily urbanised environment.

"That is a difficult area to operate any size of unmanned aircraft, so we are not going into that without a methodology and an appropriate measured approach as to how we are going to do that. I understand that there is a lot of emotion around it, but we are going to do it right."

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