Federal Aviation Administration Authorizes Unmanned Aerial Vehicle Operations Along Texas-Mexico Border to Start June 1

The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) Friday gave approval to the U.S. Customs and Border Protection to begin the use of Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAV) along the southwest Texas border beginning June 1, 2010. Last month, Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison and I signed a letter to Administrator J. Randolph Babbitt of the Federal Aviation Administration encouraging him to give priority consideration to the Customs and Border Protection’s (CBP) pending Certificate of Authorization for Unmanned Aerial Vehicle operations in Texas.

I’m pleased to see that the FAA has finally approved Predator patrols over this portion of the Texas-Mexico border. This is progress, but we have much more work to do to secure our borders. The American people are terribly upset, scared, and angry with the Federal Government, and they don’t understand why we aren’t doing more. I will continue pressing the FAA to allow these Predator patrols to expand to the rest of the Texas border, and pursue additional ways to enhance our border security.

The full text of the April 29 letter Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison and I wrote to Administrator Babbitt is below.

Dear Administrator Babbitt:

We understand that the Customs and Border Protection (CBP) currently has five Predator B Unmanned Ariel Vehicles (UAVs) conducting high-quality surveillance along our nation’s international borders, with plans to deploy two additional Predator B UAVs in the near future. The State of Texas has requested that CBP consider basing these additional UAVs in Texas to augment the efforts of local, state, and federal law enforcement agencies operating along the Texas-Mexico border. However, the Department of Homeland Security has said that it is unable to take action on this request because the FAA has thus far failed to issue a Certificate of Authorization, which is necessary to enable CBP to safely operate UAVs in Texas. We urge the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) to give priority consideration to CBP's pending Certificate of Authorization for Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV) operations in Texas.

The unspeakable brutality that is occurring at the hands of the drug cartels in Mexico is alarming. According to a report by the Mexican government, more than 3,365 lives were lost between January and March of this year as a result of drug-related violence in Mexico. In 2009 alone, there were 2,600 drug-related murders in Ciudad Juarez, located across the border from El Paso, Texas. Ciudad Juarez is not the only flash point in this crisis. The State of Texas shares 1,254 miles of border with Mexico, which is roughly 65 percent of the entire U.S.-Mexico border. The violence and bloodshed of recent gun battles between rival drug cartels in Reynosa and Nuevo Laredo have made national headlines in recent weeks.

Your action is needed to enable CBP to further promote and strengthen our nation’s security by safely conducting UAV operations in Texas. We request a meeting with you to discuss the current status of the pending Certificate of Authorization application, as well as related issues regarding future UAV operations in Texas.

Thank you for your serious and prompt attention to our concerns.

Issues: 

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Will this result in extensive no fly zones for general aviation?  Border patrol, or whatever we call it, operates at least 100 miles from the border.  What will be the areas of operation for these drones and who is liable when one runs into a private aircratt?

Thank you so much.  The drones and other measures are desperately needed to preserve our way of life and safety here in Texas and ultimately in the country.  I have friends here as close to San Antonio as in the Valley and in George West, Texas who are scared for their safety and for their land.  One friend in George West reported that illegals with knives were knocking on doors that night, asking for rides to Houston.  I understand some Texans have lost their lives trying to protect themselves and their property.  The populace is upset with the government for not doing more to protect the lives and property of its citizens.  I, for one, am upset.  Arizona should also receive consideration for drones over their border.  I don't blame Arizona for doing what they did.  They probably figured that was the only way to get the government's attention, since it was apparently a low priority with the government.  The citizens are truly scared there, and they have a right to be protected.  I think all of the borders of the country adjacent to Mexico should be covered and protected.  This is not an issue of discriminating against illegal aliens.  It is an issue of personal safety of the citizens.  Thank you for your consideration of doing more.
 

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