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Hawaii may soon become a hub for unmanned aerial vehicles or drones.
A controversial program that both the state and military are pursuing.
We see drones in many military and spy movies, but it’s a technology that is making its way into civilian hands.
That’s why the Federal Aviation Administration is looking to select 6 regional test sites, to see how drones can be integrated into national air space.
If Hawaii is selected as one of FAA’s drone test sites, we may see unmanned aircraft taking off from one or more of our state airports.
“When people hear the word ‘drone’ they think ‘oh my God’ what is the state up to? The key is to think of drones as robots,” says Representative Gene Ward, (R) Hawaii Kai, Kalama Valley.
Ward says the drones he’s talking about wouldn’t be used for surveillance and security purposes, but can help with monitoring our traffic conditions, tracking wildlife at sea, or even with search and rescues.
“If we get this contract, it’s helpful for our economy,” adds Ward.
He hopes the drone industry could help generate cutting edge jobs and draw new tech companies to Hawaii.
The drone is the wave of the future, the same way subways are run, airplanes in the air, they run on automatic pilot,” says Ward.
“I’m kind of excited about it to see how drones and pilots will be together,” says Michael Tevper, a helicopter pilot.
Other pilots think mixing drones with civilian, military, and commercial aircraft is an accident waiting to happen.
” I don’t want to be flying around with those things … with some guy in some remote location looking at a screen without situational awareness,” says John Pitre, a helicopter pilot.
And he’s worried about the potential uses of the drones..
“I’ve got very mixed feelings about drones…flying killer robots, how about that,” he adds.
But drones have already flown in Hawaii airspace. A military base on Oahu has confirmed they’re used sporadically.
Still drones are highly unregulated at a federal level.
“Right now, it’s the wild west. There are no regulations about unmanned vehicles,” adds Ward.
Kaneohe Marine Corps Base Hawaii confirmed they are working on their own drone program, and there are dozens that are projected to arrive on the island in the next two to three years.
“Clearly, we have to be aware of national security, personal privacy. But right now, it’s no mans land and that’s where the legislature has to pick up and run with it,” states Ward.
Senator Sam Slom introduced legislation last session that would have created a task force so that guidelines and reporting requirements would be set up in Hawaii. That bill was deferred.
The FAA is expected to announce by the end of the year the 6 regional sites that will be selected for this drone program.
Hawaii has partnered with Oregon and Alaska, to present a stronger bid and has a one in-six chance of getting selected.