March 9, 2014
Since 2011, PRM has sought information regarding drone operations from the FAA and other agencies. At present, the operation of unmanned drones requires a COA waiver from the FAA, although the agency is on track to issue regulations for the routinized use of drone aircraft, perhaps as early as next year.
In 2013, PRM obtained a list of both operational and canceled COAs governing drone activities within the state of Minnesota. At that time, entities holding active COAs included the Minnesota Army National Guard and the University of North Dakota.
Border Patrol use of drones
PRM also became aware – via a Minnesota Public Radio report – that the U.S. Border Patrol (a component of the federal Department of Homeland Security) was operating drones within the borders of the state. In January of this year, PRM obtained additional information about the Minnesota-based use of Border Patrol drones from the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension.
FAA FOIA request
In order to gather more information on the state’s operational drones, PRM submitted a FOIA request to the FAA in November of 2013. The request sought all documents related to two specific COAs, as well as any records related to COAs governing the Border Patrol’s use of unmanned drones.
After seeking additional time to respond, the FAA provided a status update on February 14th. In its e-mail correspondence, the FAA stated that PRM had two options to obtain documents at the present juncture. The first option entailed receiving all available COA documents, but foregoing the remainder, which were the subject of ongoing litigation brought by another party.
The second option entailed receiving all available documents, and then keeping PRM’s FOIA request open until litigation had ended. PRM chose the latter option.
Notably, the FAA also stated that it held no COAs related to Border Patrol operations in Minnesota. PRM’s Matt Ehling then forwarded a copy of the BCA correspondence the organization had received, and asked the FAA if its search for responsive records included the Border Patrol’s parent agency, the Department of Homeland Security.
Watch this space for additional updates.