Texas EquuSearch, a volunteer group that searches for missing persons, has been given an OK from the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) to use an unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) to help locate a missing woman in Texas.
According to a report from CBS DFW, the team will operate three UAVs no higher than 400 feet to take aerial photos and identify anything suspicious that would lead to the recovery of the Fort Worth woman, who disappeared on Aug. 30 in Plano.
In a release, the FAA explained why it issued this Emergency Certificate of Waiver or Authorization (COA) for the search.
The agency says it approves Emergency COAs for natural-disaster relief, search-and-rescue operations, and other urgent circumstances. In this case, the FAA says, it granted the Emergency COA in less than 24 hours.
Under the Emergency COA, Texas EquuSearch will be able to operate its aircraft from Sept. 11 until sunset Sept. 15. The COA was issued to the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) of Gaithersburg, Md., at the request of the Plano Police Department. NIST has a previously existing relationship with Texas EquuSearch.
According to the agency, it issues COAs on an emergency basis under the following circumstances: 1) a situation exists in which there is distress or urgency and there is an extreme possibility of a loss of life; 2) the proponent has determined that manned flight operations cannot be conducted efficiently; and 3) the proposed UAV is operating under a current approved COA for a different purpose or location. The FAA explains that it also uses the COA process to authorize operations for civil (non-governmental) aircraft that have an airworthiness certificate.
Earlier this year, Texas EquuSearch was suing the FAA for the right to use UAVs after the agency ordered the group to stop. Brendan Schulman, an attorney for the organization, said in a statement during the time of the lawsuit that it is “incomprehensible … that the FAA would deem ‘illegal’ the use of a technology that can reunite missing people with their families.”
The lawsuit was later dismissed in a federal appeals court in Washington, D.C., and the group planned to continue using UAVs in its search efforts. Schulman tweeted this on Sept. 11, following the news of the COA: “Happy to report that Texas EquuSearch and the FAA are working cooperatively on a missing person search using a drone.”
The Royal Canadian Mounted Police of Nova Scotia recently proved what the technology is capable of when it used a Draganfly UAV to successfully locate and rescue a missing family of hikers.