Derp from above


As the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) reauthorization bill makes its way through the Senate this week, Sens. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) and Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) have been arguing for new rules that would limit cargo pilots’ flight time to nine hours between rests. We don’t want any accidents.

“Fatigue is a killer,” Captain Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger, the pilot who executed the 2009 emergency airliner landing in the Hudson River, told a press conference. Then again, if you are a drone pilot in the business of deliberately killing people, working six or seven days a week, twelve hours a day is not a problem.

The drone program remains controversial and has its detractors and defenders. Al Jazeera English this week published the confessions of former Air Force drone technician, Cian Westmoreland. He and three other former operators last year called on the president to stop the program, calling the strategy “self-defeating,” one that propagates anti-US hatred. Not to mention his own nightmares:

The nightmares encompassed everything I didn’t understand. I had nightmares about bombing villages, about being bombed, about killing children and trying to save them.

I was emotionally detached from loved ones and had a battle with alcoholism.

And that’s just one part – there’s also an insidious part – the moral injury side of things, where the more you learn, the worse it gets. You’re trying to figure out what you did, why you did it and what’s going on in that country.

That’s what brings you to a real point of hopelessness.

Where this story intersects with the FAA reauthorization is Section 334 of the FAA Modernization and Reform Act of 2012: PUBLIC UNMANNED AIRCRAFT SYSTEMS. For the uninitiated, that section directs the FAA to make plans for integrating law enforcement and military drones into the national air space. There has been little public discussion about safety and privacy issues. And these drones are not the little quadracopters, mind you, but the big Corellian ships. Not that anybody in Congress is paying attention, unless it’s to defense contractors:

General Atomics expects to begin training Predator pilots for its overseas customers at the Grand Sky UAS aviation and business park near Grand Forks, North Dakota, in April.

“One of our tenants—General Atomics—is going to commence flight training they believe in the April timeframe,” said Tom Sowyer president of Grand Sky Development Co. “That means foreign countries—foreign militaries—are going to be sending their pilots to Grand Forks, North Dakota, to learn how to fly Predators.”

No one is suggesting the military drones flying over North Dakota, New York, Nevada, and the border with Mexico
will be armed anytime soon, or that the NSA will be hacking their video feeds to spy on unsuspecting Americans. But given Sens. Boxer’s and Klobuchar’s concerns about long hours for cargo pilots, if realism in training is important one wonders how many hours at a stretch General Atomics’ foreign customers will be flying their shiny new Predators over Grand Forks.

(Cross-posted from Hullabloo.)

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