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By David Keene
Conference showed that the values Reagan cherished still endure
Topic - Michael Toscano
The chief of the Federal Aviation Administration predicted Thursday that U.S. airspace could be crowded with as many as 7,500 commercial drones within the next five years, as he unveiled a long-awaited regulatory blueprint that seeks to protect Americans' privacy while requiring testing for law enforcement and private companies seeking to operate unmanned aerial vehicles.
"Drone" is a dirty word at this week's drone industry convention in Washington.
As police comb the city for the surviving Boston Marathon bomber, speculation is now turning to whether the surviving suspect might already be in custody if surveillance drones were blanketing the sky overhead.
Steve Barnett has been flying unmanned aerial systems for more than 30 years — long before the word "drone" started making global headlines. But now, the 65-year-old Army veteran and model-airplane enthusiast finds himself answering new questions as his hobby gets dragged into a white-hot national debate.
Could police arm drones with tear gas or pepper spray? Will unmanned aircraft someday conduct 24-hour surveillance on American streets? Which arm of the federal government should take the lead in restricting what drones can do and what information they can collect?
Drones as weapons and drones as spies remain matters of intense debate across the country, but the controversial aircraft are poised to make an impact as something else: economic engines.
Frustrated commercial drone companies say the Obama administration is falling further and further behind in meeting congressional demands to clear the path for full integration into American airspace by 2015. Billions of dollars of investments as well as commercial applications for drones could be caught up in the delay, they warn.
Unmanned aerial vehicles may be exploding in popularity, but among industry leaders, their common moniker -- "drone" -- is rapidly going out of style.
Man may not rule the road for much longer. Already set to fill the heavens within a few years, the drone industry is looking beyond the sky to opportunities on land and under water.
"Our paramount concern is safety. We must ensure the commercial use of [drones] takes place in a safe and responsible manner, whenever commercial use occurs. The decision also underscores the immediate need for a regulatory framework for small" drones, said the group's president and CEO, Michael Toscano.
Mr. Toscano noted that the FAA's announcements were better late than never as the FAA has missed every deadline laid out for drone integration in the reauthorization act.