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6 Pilots Beware: UAVs Coming To US/Canada Border Region

And With The Drones, Comes The Threat Of New TFRs

Aero-news, 16/1/2007


It's about to get a lot more crowded in the skies over the United States/Canada border, as the US government is poised to begin flying Predator unmanned surveillance planes along the entire 5,500-mile stretch between the two countries.

The Winnipeg Free Press reports one drone should be flying before September of this year, from a Customs and Border Protection outpost in Grand Forks, ND. More will be coming... which could spell trouble for pilots flying between the two countries, as the unmanned vehicles pose a potential safety problem to other aircraft due to their lack of "see-and-avoid" anti-collision equipment (read, actual pilots onboard -- Ed.)



Past deployments of UAVs along the US-Mexico border meant far-reaching TFRs within the areas of operation... a scenario that would be especially problematic farther north, as more pilots regularly fly between the US and Canada than they do to and from Mexico.

Officials say the UAVs are a vital measure to safeguard vast stretches of the largely remote border region, and to prevent persons attempting to enter the country illegally from slipping through.

"Just one of the wrong people getting through, driving through our border area, could spell catastrophe," said Scott Baker, the newly installed CBP Chief Patrol Agent in Grand Forks. "So, it is a concern."

Baker notes UAVs have flown similar missions along the US-Mexico border for several years, mostly to detect illegal immigrants coming across the border. However, those flights along the Mexican border were halted after a Predator B drone crashed in southern Arizona last April. The accompanying TFR disappeared, as well.

Despite that accident, officials -- mostly American politicians -- tout the enhanced security, coverage, and safety the Predators could provide to CBP agents working along the vast Canadian border. They also point to the Predator's successful record in combat theaters such as Iraq and Afghanistan.

Doug Marshall, director of Project Development at the University of North Dakota's Odegard School of Aerospace Sciences, says when it comes to the Canadian border, the concern is less about immigration than potential terrorists "finding a way to get into Canada and then finding it relatively easy to get across the (US) border. And it is easier. That's just a fact."

In addition to the Predators, CBP agents in North Dakota will also get 22 pilots to fly manned missions in airplanes and helicopters. Other deployment centers will be in Bellingham, WA; Great Falls, MT; and Plattsburgh, NY.

One Canadian defense analyst told the Free Press news of the UAV deployment may surprise other Canadians.

"Didn't we have the longest undefended border for a very, very long time?" said Ian Glenn, chairman of ING Engineering.

"It (the Predator) is just a robot that flies," Glenn added. "And they're going to drive it up and down the border and look for things. Will that be a deterrent to criminal activity? Yes. Will it be a deterrent to terrorist activity? Yes, I guess."

A ringing endorsement, that...