FAA gives police permission to fly unmanned drones

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The Federal Aviation Administration announced Monday that law enforcement agencies will be given authorization to fly unmanned aircraft systems (UAS), more commonly known as drones, for training, but agencies must demonstrate proficiency before they are granted an operational permit.

In February, President Barack Obama signed a reauthorization bill that directed the FAA to speed up the process that police departments and first responders must go through to get permission to fly drones. The bill focused on drones that weighed 4.4 pounds or less and would fly no higher than 400 feet.

Under new guidelines posted in a statement on the FAA's website, law enforcement can fly drones that weigh up to 25 pounds. The statement did not explain why the increase was granted.

The drones can be flown up to 400 feet in the air. The pilot handling the drone must be able to see the small aircraft and cannot be within five miles of an airport or other aviation activity. Operational permits have also been extended to last two years instead of one.

"The FAA continues to move aggressively toward the safe, timely and efficient integration of UAS into the nation’s air transportation system," the statement said.

Law enforcement agencies can now apply for permits with the FAA online. The federal government can grant immediate temporary permission to an organization if a drone is being used for disaster or humanitarian relief.

The reauthorization bill also directs the FAA to develop regulations that will allow other commercial and private drone uses by 2015.

"This class of UAS will likely experience the greatest near-term growth in civil and commercial operations because of their versatility and relatively low initial cost and operating expenses," the FAA statement said.

This summer, the FAA is expected to announce six drone testing sites.

The Los Angeles Police Department and the L.A. County Sheriff’s Department haven’t purchased drones, but officials with the Sheriff’s Department said they have tested a few and are interested in using them someday.

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