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Sulu Haan International Headquarters Come Visit us for LUNCH! In addition to our organic coffee, pizzas, empanadas, pastries and pies, we now prepare made to order sandwiches, salads, and even black bean gazpacho. 3601 S. Congress off E. Alpine Penn Field under the water tower check our site for monthly calendar it it Supporting The Texas Observer , with every referral and transaction. You Know Me \(with Get real estate help from someone you know. Call me today! Larry Hurlbert, [email protected] 512.431.5370 [email protected] The Kinney Company, Real Estate Services, Austin, TX Because communication is on unprotected radio frequencies, dropped links have been an ongoing issue with the Predator B. A dropped link causes what the FAA calls a “deviation”: The aircraft does something unplanned or unexpected, and violates an airspace regulation. This year, the FAA reported that Border Patrol drones have had seven deviations. Another concern is that unlike manned aircraft, drones don’t have collision warning systems. There is always the human factor. Without a pilot on board, the operator can’t always gauge the weather or, as in the Arizona crash, whether they turned the engine off. Border Patrol officials say the FAA is calculating safety data incorrectly. They say that the agency has flown only 7,000 hours since the program started in 2005. The FAA uses incidents per 100,000 hours to calculate its safety rates, which Border Patrol officials say makes the Border Patrol accident rate look worse than it is. Maj. Gen. Michael Kostelnik, who oversees the Border Patrol drone program, said the Predator B is one of the safest unmanned aircraft flying: “We are at least as safe as manned aircraft.” Kostelnik said lost links “happen quite often.” In fact, during the Predator B’s first flight into the Big Bend region, from Arizona in June, the drone lost its communication link. He said Border Patrol had a series of safeguards, including a second co-pilot, to pick up lost links. “When it’s lost link, it doesn’t mean it’s out of control,” he said. “It’s programmed to stay on course until it gains link again. If it never regains the link, then it’s programmed to go somewhere where there’s no one around and self-destruct.” During the July15 hearing, at least one legislator was skeptical about whether the $10 million Predator B was the border-security answer Congress hoped it would be. Congressman Bennie Thompson, a Democrat from Mississippi who also serves as chair of the Homeland Security Committee, told Kostelnik that it had been difficult to find data on the number of illegal-immigrant apprehensions and drug seizures facilitated by drones. “I was in Arizona last weekend, along the southern border, Douglas, Arizona, the Tucson sector. It’s difficult to say to the ranchers a [drone] is better than boots on the ground,” Thompson said. There are other concerns. Video cameras above American cities make some civil rights groups, like the ACLU, uncomfortable. Cuellar said they shouldn’t worry about privacy violations. “They’re not going to be spying on anyone,” he said. “Law enforcement has the training and the attorneys to make sure they don’t violate anyone’s privacy.” It’s unclear whether Border Patrol has the manpower to interpret the massive amounts of imagery data a drone generates. Congressman Christopher Carney, a Democrat from Pennsylvania, was skeptical during the hearing. In the Navy reserve, Carney serves as a drone mission commander. “One of the challenges we have is … interpreting all the data gathered … even in the small, short duration missions,” he said. “Do you have [information analysts] in place that can look at the information and interpret it … and do the studies that you need to do, looking at, for example, known crossing areas?” Kostelnik said Border Patrol was working on a data center similar to that of the Department of Defense. Trained analysts would do real-time analysis as AUGUST 20, 2010 video flowed in. “We’ll have to grow those analysts over time,” he said. Border Patrol may invest millions in its Predator B fleet only to find that something safer and cheaper is already available. Miniaturization is the future of drone engineering. The Defense Department is working with companies to miniaturize video and sensor technologies used by the Predator B. These drones weigh between 10 and 15 pounds, and cost a fraction of a Predator B. If a A miniature drone crashes, “We’re talking a bird strike,” said a company representative working on the technology, “but it probably won’t kill anybody.” Despite these concerns, the United States is doubling down on drones. Legislators, including Cornyn and Cuellar, recently lobbied the Obama administration to include $32 million to expand Homeland Security’s drone fleet. The funding was approved Aug. 5. By the end of 2011, Border Patrol could have as many as 10 Predator B drones. A drone costs approximately $4.5 million and another $6 million for the equipment to operate it. That’s before you hire pilots and analysts to operate them. “You also have to ask whether they could do it for cheaper.” said professor Hansman. “You could pay a pilot in a Cessna $20 an hour, or spend $1,000 an hour operating an unmanned aerial vehicle.” “They’re not going to be spying on anyone.” LEARN more about the drone program at