Drones increase along borders

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Unmanned aerial vehicles are increasingly flying along America's northern and southern borders.

During a Oct. 28 congressional field hearing held in Detroit, a Customs and Border Protection official testified the CBP currently flies UAVs along the border between Spokane, Wash., and Minnesota, and in "a small area" around Syracuse, New York.

"We are actively working with the FAA to bridge that gap, you might say, that is between the eastern edge of the current certificate of authorization in Minnesota down to that area in New York," said John Beutlich, director of the CBP northern region office of air and marine. He testified before the House Homeland Security subcommittee on emergency preparedness, response, and communications.

Federal Aviation Administration officials have expressed reservations about UAVs in national airspace, particularly due to concerns over drones' ability to detect, sense, and avoid manned aircraft. According to a Sept. 12 Government Accountability Office report (.pdf), DHS possesses at least seven UAVs and plans to expand that number to 24 by fiscal 2016, including 11 on the southwest border.

DHS estimates, according to the GAO, that its Predator B UAV (a variant of the Defense Department's Reaper) costs $3,234 to operate per light hour, including direct and indirect costs, including fuel, maintenance, support services and labor.

Coincidentally on the day Beutlich testified, CBP also announced that it received the second of two Predator-B drones funded by a $600 million supplemental appropriation during fiscal 2010. The second drone is housed at the Naval Air Security Operations Center in Corpus Christi, Texas.

For more:
- go to the hearing webpage (prepared testimonies and webcast available)
- go to a CBP press release about the Predator-B drone

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