Mark Weiss of Potomac, Maryland, former American Airlines pilot, sees danger in increasing use of drones

POTOMAC, Md. (WUSA) — The crash of a $100 million military drone on Maryland’s Eastern Shore Monday is a reminder that congress wants more unmanned aerial drones in the American sky, and has ordered the federal Aviation Administration to promulgate rules to allow that to happen quickly.

“I think there is an inevitability that they are going to be a part of our everyday life,” said Mark Weiss, a former American Airlines pilot who now leads the civilian aviation team at The Spectrum Group, a Washington-based consulting agency.

Americans recognize the unmanned drones as the military devices used to track and kill terrorists in Pakistan and Afghanistan. One was used as a launch platform for missiles that killed al Qaeda’s number two leader in Pakistan last week.

Seeing a huge market in law enforcement agencies in the United States, defense contractors lobbied congress to permit their use in American airspace. It worked, and the industry is preparing for huge sales within the next several years.

Airline pilots, though have expressed concern about the safety of these unmanned vehicles operating in American airspace shared by passenger planes and cargo flights.

“They want those people to be trained to the same level of safety and security as current pilots are for airlines in the United States; that they meet the same qualifications, the same level of training, and the public should have the same expectations of somebody flying a drone as they would for flying a commercial airplane,” Weiss told 9News Now.

Those operating drones can be hundreds, or thousands of miles away.

“They’re not as qualified to make decisions because they don’t have that level of experience. They don’t have the training. If something were to go awry, or if they were placed in a situation where they have to make decisions based upon experience, based upon technology, based upon training ( they would not be as prepared),” Weiss said.

In addition to training for the operators of drones, pilots worry about the security of the machines that are not operated by human beings who are in the plane, and fear they could be hijacked by computer hackers who could remotely seize control.

“Today, we have hardened cockpit doors. We have air marshals, FFDOs, federal flight deck officers on board aircraft.

“It’s very difficult for somebody on board an aircraft to take over an airplane. The question comes up as to what level of security is there now, and is going to be there in the future, for somebody in the future to hijack a drone, being able to take over that drone, and use that as a weapon of mass destruction, as we saw on Nine-11,” Weiss said in a Monday evening interview.

“Drones come in various sizes. You’re talking about something as small as a small bird, but you’re also talking about something like the one that recently crashed that was the size of of, basically, a 737, which is a jet airliner, so they can cause a tremendous amount of havoc if you were to bring them into a building, if you were to hit another airplane with that.

“If somebody hijacks the frequency and hijacks that drone and operates it remotely, that’s a situation that we have to be critical of,” Weiss said.