Skies opened to new opportunities

The skies were opened to a world of opportunities with a recent announcement that Alaska had been selected as a location for drone testing. The Alaska Center for Unmanned Aircraft Systems Integration at the University of Alaska Fairbanks will oversee the work.

There is huge potential for unmanned aircraft use across our state, including the Kenai Peninsula and Cook Inlet, from public safety to science to industrial applications.

Think of the possibilities. Unmanned aircraft can be outfitted with a vast array of technologies to handle a wide variety of tasks. Drones could be deployed for search and rescue missions. Imaging equipment could enhance wildlife surveys. They could be used to monitor wildfires or volcanic eruptions without putting people in harm’s way. Extra eyes in the sky would be invaluable in the event of an oil spill. There are industrial applications as well, from surveying to examining infrastructure.

There will be an economic benefit as the use of unmanned aircraft increases. There will be a demand for highly skilled workers to handle the technology, and those will be well-paying jobs — and a high-tech sector will enhance the region’s economy, currently driven by oil and gas, fishing and tourism.

There are legitimate concerns about drones being used for government surveillance — and recent revelations about federal intelligence-gathering have done little to instill trust. Government agencies will need strict oversight in how the technology is deployed.

Likewise, Alaska skies are filled with small aircraft, from air taxis accessing remote locations to helicopters traveling to and from oil platforms. Safety regulations will need to be implemented to ensure that sharing the skies can be done safely.

This is exciting technology, and we’re thrilled to see Alaska at the forefront of developing the use of unmanned aircraft.

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