Drones may soon be buzzing Hawaiian skies

FAA selects University of Alaska's proposal to test drones in Hawaii and Oregon

FAA selects University of Alaska’s proposal to test drones in Hawaii and Oregon

By Malia Zimmerman | Watchdog.org

HONOLULU — Island visitors may see more than brilliant orange sunsets, rolling blue surf and white sand beaches when visiting Hawaii. Drones — unmanned aircraft systems, really — soon could be buzzing through the Hawaiian skies.

The FAA this week that the University of Alaska is one of several educational institutions selected to test drones, and Hawaii and Oregon are included in the university’s plan to experiment in seven climatic zones.

State Sen. Will Espero, chairman of the Senate Public Safety and Intergovernmental and Military Affairs Committee introduced legislation to establish the Hawaii State Office of Aerospace Development. He said the research has the potential to grow and diversify Hawaii’s economy, bring high paying jobs to residents and enhance Hawaii as a test site for technology and robotics.

“Unmanned aircraft systems have a multitude of benefits including emergency preparedness, disaster responses, search and rescue, weather research and data collection, invasive species control, ocean and other scientific research,” Espero said.

The proposed research will lead to development of standards, monitoring, navigation and safety for drones, Espero added.

Sen. Will Espero wants more drones flying over Hawaii

Sen. Will Espero wants more drones flying over Hawaii

During the 2012 legislative session, the Legislature passed Senate Concurrent Resolution 137 SD1 HD1, requesting the Office of Aerospace Development partner with Alaska to expand and diversify both states’ economies and the United States Space Program.

The Legislature also passed Senate Resolution 73 SD1, requesting the Office of Aerospace Development develop a proposal to encourage the FAA to select Hawaii as one of six unmanned aircraft system test sites. Some 37 states competed.

Senate Minority Leader Sam Slom, R-Hawaii Kai-Diamond Head, who in 2013 introduced Senate Bill 783 that called for guidelines and reporting of military use of drones where private citizens are involved, noted despite Hawaii’s big announcement Monday, Hawaii wasn’t selected as the test site, Alaska was.

“While I certainly support the efforts of the State of Hawaii in its Aerospace Development, the fact is, it was Alaska, and not Hawaii, the FAA chose as part of its six-state testing program. Because of our and Oregon’s separate agreement with the University of Alaska, Hawaii will get to participate but we were not chosen,” Slom said.

Hawaii Senate Minority Leader Sam Slom wants legislation to ensure drones don't invade privacy of Hawaii residents and visitors

Hawaii Senate Minority Leader Sam Slom wants legislation to ensure drones don’t invade privacy of Hawaii residents and visitors

Drones already are being used by the military under the FAA’s watchful eye. The U.S. Army 25th Infantry Division’s 2nd Stryker Brigade and its 3rd Infantry Brigade based at Schofield Barracks and Wheeler Air Force Base on Oahu use more than 100 drones in surveillance and reconnaissance operations. The Hawaii Air Guard has another 24 drones that fly over some of Hawaii’s key military bases.

However, many residents are skeptical of drones flying through Hawaiian skies because of their lethal reputation, and they fear loss of privacy. The eyes in the sky can be outfitted with facial recognition software, thermal imaging cameras, microphones and license plate readers.

While Slom said Hawaii can benefit as drones are developed into smaller, better, advanced devices at an unparalleled pace, he also is concerned about privacy issues.

“Without being alarmist, conspiratorial or paranoid, I continue to urge caution in the wider unregulated use of drones by the military and law enforcement in Hawaii,” Slom said. “There needs to be more transparency as to usage particularly as it applies to our privacy and 4th Amendment constitutional rights against unlawful search and seizure. This is especially true with the overseas use of drones and the recent conflicting court opinions regarding NSA spying on American citizens.”

Slom’s legislation didn’t pass in 2013, but technically the bill is alive for the 2014 session, which begins in mid January.

Reach Malia Zimmerman at Malia@hawaiireporter.com

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