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Drones to share airspace with airplanes

Airplanes will now share the sky with unmanned drones after the U.S. Congress passed a bill that aims to take aviation into the high-tech era.
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Written by Ina Muri, Weekend Editor on

Airplanes will now share the sky with unmanned drones after U.S. Congress passed a bill that aims to take the nation's aviation industry into a new high-tech era, the Chicago Tribune reports.

The bill, which passed the Senate 75-20 on Monday, accelerates the nation’s switch from using radar to a system based on GPS technology—and also requires that FAA open the U.S. skies to drone flights within the next four years.

Currently, the FAA restricts the drone use in segregated blocks of military airspace, border patrols and 300 public agencies. The agencies are restricted to flying small drones at low altitude and away from airports and urban centers. On September 30, 2015, the expansion of military, commercial and privately–owned drones access to U.S. airspace opens, but the FAA is required to submit a plan of how to safely provide drones within the first nine months of the bills passage.

Several labor issues have been trying to pass the bill for the past five years and the final approval happened with an unusual degree of bipartisanship support. Although the labor provision, which was opposed by the Democratic –controlled senate, became the foremost issue in holding up the bill, more than a dozen unions that represents the airline industry complained that the deal was reached without their input and urged its rejection.

Sen, Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, told the Chicago Tribune that he decided to vote against the bill because of the labor provisions. His reasoning is that he is taking a stand against powerful companies who don’t want their workers to have representation. Beyond the labor union issues, he thinks that the bill contains “many good things.”

The FAA has moved slower in adopting the satellite-based technology than most other nations. But the U.S. also has the world’s most complicated airspace with more variety of private aviation. This new technology allows for a more precise indication of the aircraft’s location. Planes will also be able to land and take off closer together and more frequently, glide in more steeply with the engine idling, and consequentially use less fuel.

What are your thoughts about this bill? Should it have passed?

This post was originally published on Smartplanet.com

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