Is it a bird? Is it a plane? Nope, it’s an unmanned drone! Congress today approved a bill that allows unmanned aircraft to fly in the same airspace as commercial airliners, private planes, and cargo jets. The legislation allocates $63.4 billion over the next three and a half years to the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), $11 billion of which will be used to update air traffic control systems at 35 US airports to handle the remote-controlled aircrafts. The deadline for the systems update is June 2015.
The change to flight regulations will allow military, commercial, and private drones to fly over US territory. Currently, drones are only allowed over certain military airspace, along US borders for surveillance purposes, and to about 300 public agencies, according to the Associated Press. The FAA must submit its plan for how to safely allow wide-spread drone flight within nine months of the bill’s passage.
In addition to the bit about drones — which we find both awesome and horrifying — the FAA will also update to a more precise GPS system, known as Automatic Dependent Surveillance-Broadcast, or ADS-B. Once ADS-B is in place, aircraft fitted with the new tech will have their locations updated every second, as opposed to the six to 12 second intervals allowed by the current system. This will allow planes to come into runways at a steeper decent, fly closer together, and land and take off more quickly.
The addition of ADS-B is part of a massive FAA endeavor known as NextGen. According to the FAA, the roll out of NexGen will allow for fewer delays, fewer accidents, a lower environmental impact, and stronger national security, among a slew of other benefits.