The FAA announced that it has signed an agreement with CACI International to test technology to detect drones within 5 miles of airports. The technology would allow officials to detect and identify drones within the defined radius, and track them back to their operators. “A steep increase in reports of small unmanned aircraft in close proximity to runways is presenting a new challenge for the FAA. It is the agency’s responsibility to identify possible gaps in safety and address them before an incident occurs,” states the FAA announcement.
The agreement is part of the UAS Pathfinder Program, a federal program designed to facilitate cooperation between government and industry to develop the next generation of drone regulations and applications.
The agreement was announced during FAA Deputy Administrator Michael Whitaker’s testimony about drones before the House Aviation Subcommittee. Whitaker pointed out that drone operators are not like traditional model airplane enthusiasts, operating within the framework of an established club. “These new entrants are often unaware that they are operating in shared airspace,” said Whitaker. “The proliferation of small and relatively inexpensive UAS presents a real challenge: to successfully integrate unmanned aircraft into our airspace, we must integrate these new operators into our aviation safety culture.” Whitaker acknowledged that the rules for drones need to be finalized, and public education efforts continued.
The announcement follows the FAA’s proposal of a $1.9 million fine against aerial photography company SkyPan International for performing unauthorized drone flights over Class B airspace. With the new technology, the FAA may be able to pursue penalties against smaller drone operators flying in restricted airspace.
“The agreement provides a proven way to passively detect, identify, and track UAS – or aerial drones – and their ground-based operators, in order to protect airspace from inadvertent or unlawful misuse of drones near U.S. airports. This CACI-built solution will help ensure a safe, shared airspace while supporting responsible UAS users’ right to operate their aircraft.”said John Mengucci, CACI’s Chief Operating Officer and President of U.S. Operations.