Universities Seek to Fly Unmanned Aircrafts

Tim Goral's picture
Monday, March 4, 2013

Some higher education institutions in Michigan are seeking authorization to fly their own unmanned aircraft for testing and research amid a roiling national debate about U.S. military-targeted drone strikes abroad and privacy concerns at home.

Public entities like universities and police departments need approval from the Federal Aviation Administration to use unmanned aircraft outside of a lab, even when flying under 400 feet.

Among them are the University of Michigan and Northwestern Michigan College in Traverse City. The FAA released an updated list of drone applicants — which included authorizations to fly for both schools — after a lawsuit by the Electronic Frontier Foundation in San Francisco.

Ella Atkins, a professor of aerospace engineering at U of M, said her department will apply for drone authorization within the next couple of months after the FAA made it tougher for universities to fly drones.

When U of M first applied five years ago, approval was almost “a given if you’re a university,” Atkins explained.

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