Unmanned planes get civilian go-ahead

Unpiloted passenger and cargo planes took a step closer toward taking to the skies on Wednesday, when the Civil Aviation Authority granted Israel Aerospace Industries (IAI) a permit to fly one of its Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAV) on civilian and not just defense missions. The permit was granted to IAI for its Heron Medium Altitude Long Endurance (MALE) UAV. The drone, which was developed to carry out long-range strategic reconnaissance missions, is capable of staying in the air for over 40 hours. Officials said that the permit paved the way for the day that passenger and cargo planes will fly without pilots. The Civil Aviation Authority had set up a committee to consider allowing UAV's to fly within civilian airspace, and Heron was the first drone granted the permit. "This is a huge step for drones," said one IAI official. "This now means that UAVs can conduct flights without the Air Force and just by letting the civilian authorities know that the Heron is taking to the skies."