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FAA Releases List of Registered Domestic Drone Operators

A wide range of public organizations—from the military to local law enforcement—are allowed to fly drones in American skies

By Greg Otto
U.S. News & World Report

April 24, 2012

A number of drones, like the Draganflyer X6 drone pictured, are in use by organizations ranging from local law enforcement to Customs and Border Patrol.A number of drones, like the Draganflyer X6 drone pictured, are in use by organizations ranging from local law enforcement to Customs and Border Patrol.

A broad array of organizations are authorized to fly drones within U.S. borders, ranging from defense contractors, to universities, and even a Midwest town with a population of less than 2,500 people.

The Federal Aviation Administration released a list of 63 authorized launch sites last week after a Freedom of Information Act request was filed by the Electronic Frontier Foundation.

Using the information gathered from the FAA, the EFF put together a map that shows where authorized domestic unmanned aerial vehicles are being launched from.

[First Man Arrested With Drone Evidence Vows to Fight Case]

The registered locations, which are located in 20 different states, are tied to some public entities that are already widely known for their use of drones. The FAA granted authorizations to operate drones in the U.S. to the military, Border and Customs Patrol, NASA and the FBI.

But the authorization has also been issued to 25 universities and colleges, including Cornell University, Georgia Tech, and Eastern Gateway Community College, a small school located in Steubenville, Ohio.

Two small towns whose combined population is slightly over 3,000 people—Otter Tail, Minnesota, and Herington, Kansas—have also been granted drone licenses.

The EFF also found that a separate authorization, known as a Special Airworthiness Certificate, has been given to defense contractors, like Raytheon and General Atomics, in order to test drones in U.S. airspace.

There have been numerous privacy, safety, and national security concerns raised over drone flights in U.S. airspace. In February, Congress ordered the FAA to create guidelines for domestic drone use. The agency is expected to release those rules later this summer.

The FAA’s information does not list what kind of drone each organization is using, how many drones are owned, or the reason each organization has for using UAV technology.

The FAA says there are around 300 active operating licenses, and that 700-750 have been issued since 2006. The FAA says it will release information on the number and types of drones owned by each organization in the future.

Greg Otto is the News Editor at U.S. News & World Report. You can follow him on Twitter (@gregotto) or contact him at

In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, any copyrighted work in this message is distributed under fair use without profit or payment for non-profit research and educational purposes only. [Ref.]

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