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Can our airspace handle delivery drones safely?

Friday - 1/24/2014, 1:53pm  ET

The idea of delivery drones got lots of attention when it was put out by Amazon.

The commercial applications for drones are endless, but could the systems that keep our skies safe handle an influx of unmanned aircraft?

"The big thing is: be able to miss other aircraft, and other aircraft can miss them," says Peter Dumont, president and CEO of the Air Traffic Control Association. He spoke at a symposium hosted by his group at an Arlington hotel.

"We're a long way from the Amazon model of delivering packages with drones," he says. "However, that's a good example of a business model that depends on us getting this technology integrated" into the National Airspace System, or NAS.

He says safe oversight of drones is "absolutely" possible. "We've integrated every type of flying platform into the NAS since the Wright Brothers."

Dumont says business uses could start by taking advantage of targeted crop dusting for farmers and inexpensive aerial photography for real estate agents.

Down the line, he can envision cargo drones. Even further out? "Pilot-not-on-board - they're not pilotless - aircraft carrying passengers? We'll see."

However, he says the technology will have to be miniaturized significantly before Amazon's drone idea could fly.

As for privacy concerns, he asks, "Are you worried about somebody looking in your window? Somebody can look in your window in a number of different ways, and there are laws against people looking in your windows… It's not the drone we should be looking at."

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