The Air Force’s policy that allows only rated officers to operate its larger-sized and more complex unmanned aerial vehicles “should stay that way,”
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recommends former Air Force Secretary Michael Wynne. Last month, Gen Norton Schwartz, now confirmed as the next Chief of Staff, said he would re-examine the policy upon becoming CSAF and consider revising it. Such a move would be a potential means of quickly making more operators available to relieve the heavy burden on the service’s existing UAV force in providing continual coverage in Afghanistan and Iraq. Wynne said the issue is not simplistic, when he was asked to share his views during an interview on July 28. On the one hand, “it’s an FAA issue,” he said. While it might not matter having a non-rated operator fly a UAV through airspace over unpopulated areas, it does matter, for safety reasons, having a fully qualified pilot when UAVs traverse airspace over populated areas, he said. Abandoning the current requirement for rated officers would give the FAA “real heartburn” since, for example, commercial freight companies could then justify pulling pilots out of their aircraft and flying them remotely through civil airspace as well, he said. There is also the issue of assigning responsibility at the proper level, especially when operators of the unmanned platforms like the MQ-1 Predator and MQ-9 Reaper employ weapons in combat, Wynne said. “We have a theory in the Air Force that you should be a rated officer to pull the trigger” especially in scenarios when an errant or ill-advised shot could have grave diplomatic ramifications or public-perception implications, he said.