Florida Space Advocates Talk Up Drones to State Lawmakers

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Credit: NASA

(Amy Green -- Orlando,  WMFE) Drones will be the biggest issue for Florida space industry advocates when they meet this week with state lawmakers in Tallahassee.

The Florida space industry wants the state to be one of six test sites for integrating drones in the national airspace. Since 1990 the Federal Aviation Administration has authorized the limited use of drones in national airspace for missions in the public interest such as disaster relief, law enforcement and military training. Last year Congress directed the FAA to research how to broaden the use of drones in the national airspace.

“We’re really not so much interested in the vehicles as much as the technology. How do universities end up using this? How do farmers end up using this?” says Dale Ketcham, director of spaceport research and technology at the University of Central Florida.

“We don’t know yet how it’s going to manifest itself, but we’re confident it’s going to be a huge economic capability,” he says. “It’s going to be developed somewhere. The Chinese already are doing it, and so we feel it’s important that we be leading that effort.”

Leaders of Florida’s $8 billion space industry will meet with state lawmakers Wednesday as part of their annual Space Day at the Capitol. They’ll talk with lawmakers about strategies for the industry in Florida. Ketcham says they’ll also discuss civil liberties concerns and other policy issues associated with drones.

“I’m not sure the FAA thinks of themselves as the people who ought to be setting policy on privacy and civil liberties,” he says. “FAA is just a regulatory function for safety. But the policy makers in Tallahassee and Congress are the ones who have to address that.”