Meetings set in Julian on November 11 and December 4
By Miriam Raftery
November 1, 2013 (San Diego’s East County) – Should unmanned drone aircraft testing be allowed over San Diego and East County?
San Diego’s entire Congressional delegation thinks so. All five members have signed a letter supporting efforts by Inyokern to have the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) declare our region an unmanned aircraft systems test site,The Drone News reported on October 26. San Diego Supervisors have also voiced support for the proposal, directing staff to write a letter in support. Supervisor Dianne Jacob has said she supports the concept to provide jobs and fire monitoring.
But now a citizens action group called Back Country Voices has formed to oppose drone testing here. The The group plans two meetings, one at the Julian Library on November 11 at 6 p.m. and the second on December 4 at 6 p.m. Objections include safety and privacy concerns over drone surveillance, impacts of drones on the environment, bird migrations, and the deaths of innocent civilians including thousands of children worldwide inadvertently killed by drones.
The proposed test area mapped out by Cal UAS Portal includes desert, mountain and ocean areas from San Diego’s coast across East County, also encompassing portions of Imperial County.
Representatives Darrell Issa, Scott Peters, Juan Vargas, Susan Davis and Duncan Hunter all signed onto a letter sent in support to U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx and James Williams, the FAA manager for UAS flight standard. The letter states, “San Diego is a center of aerospace technology, and the region meets and/or exceeds the criteria put forth by the FAA for a UAS/UAV test site.”
The area was recommended due to its diverse climate zones to provide testing in varying conditions.
Eileen Shibley, leader of the Cal UAS Portal team, called the support welcome news. Cal UAS has also received the support of the San Diego Lindbergh Chapter of the Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International (AUVSI). Cal UAS Portal is one in 25 teams in 24 states vying for one of six test site designations that the FAA will announce by year’s end.
Setting up test sites is the first step toward allowing unmanned aerial vehicles into U.S. airspace by the end of 2015, as Congress has directed the FAA to do.
"Diane Jacobs came up for a Town Hall meeting to discuss local issues," Julian resident Laurel Granquist told ECM. "A group of us asked her about the Drones. She said they agreed to have the FAA use back country for testing with the reason of fire detection."
Concerns raised by backcountry residents include potential for crashes, privacy rights (drones are manned with cameras), and noise concerns.
According to a post at the Back Country Voices website, David Loy, Legal Director of the ACLU of San Diego & Imperial Counties, says without proper regulation, drones can threaten not only our privacy and civil liberties but also our lives. Dave Patterson | San Diego Veterans for Peace questions what will become of the surveillance information collected by the proposed 10,000 drones around Southern California, noting,“Our fourth and fifth amendment rights are going to go up in a cloud of drones, if we’re not careful.”
Safety is another concern. Last year a Navy drone crashed near Chesapeake Bay though forunately no one was hurt. Advocates claim testing will be primarily over unpopulated areas in our region, but a map includes many populous areas. Even in remote backcountry areas, however, there are risks, since a crash could result in a brush fire in California's most fire-prone region. The more remote the location, the harder it is for firefighers to access. A crash, particularly at night when most firefighting aircraft can't operate, could pose a serious risk if a wildfire resulted.