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FAA allows drone use in missing person search

FAA allows drone use in missing person search
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The Federal Aviation Administration is allowing a drone to be used in the search for a missing woman in the Dallas, Texas area, the agency has confirmed to The Hill. 

The agency has been cracking down on most nonmilitary drone use, while it conducts congressionally mandated tests of a potential expansion of their use. 

However, the FAA said Wednesday it granted special permission to a nonprofit company called Texas EquuSearch to use a drone to help search for the missing woman. 

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"The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) early this afternoon approved an Emergency Certificate of Waiver or Authorization (COA) for the use of an Unmanned Aircraft System (UAS) in the search for a missing woman near Dallas, Texas," the agency said in a statement that was provided to The Hill. 

"The agency approves Emergency COAs for natural disaster relief, search and rescue operations and other urgent circumstances. In this case, the FAA granted the Emergency COA in less than 24 hours," the FAA statement continued. "Under the Emergency COA, Texas EquuSearch will be able to operate its aircraft from Sept. 11, 2014 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, a non-profit organization that assists with locating missing individuals." 

The missing woman is 23-year-old Fort Worth resident Christina Marie Morris, according to an earlier Associated Press report

Federal regulations currently prohibit most nonmilitary drones from being used, but Congress has mandated that the agency issue a ruling on the safety of drones sharing airspace in the U.S. with other types of airplanes by 2015. 

The FAA is facing pressure to quickly approve the increased use of drones because online companies, such as Amazon and Google, have said drones could be used to make faster deliveries. 

Police and other law enforcement officials have also sought to use the technology to help with cases like Morris’s, but critics have raised concerns about the potential for increased surveillance if drone use is expanded in the U.S. 

The FAA has been testing the interaction of drones and other types of aircrafts at six test sites across the country. The agency has predicted that it would be able to met the congressional deadline for issuing a ruling.

-This story was updated with new information at 1:32 p.m.