The FAA has announced the development of new drone detection technology to identify “rogue drones” and their operators, which they refer to as “bad actors.” Saying that sitings of drones by aircraft pilots creates a “serious safety concern” for the them, and a “potential security issue” for the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), the FAA has partnered with DHS and CACI International to test drone detection technology for use around airports.
“The explosive growth of the unmanned aircraft industry makes evaluating detection technologies an urgent priority,” said Marke “Hoot” Gibson, FAA Senior Advisor on UAS Integration, said in the FAA statement. “This research is totally aimed at keeping our skies safe, which is our number one mission.”
CACI’s proposed system, called SkyTracker, uses radio frequency sensors placed strategically around airports to determine the location of both an unwanted drone and the operator, which certainly has the potential to increase the FAA’s efforts to enforce drone regulations.
Rather than partner with industry groups or drone advocacy organizations to help establish drone regulations, the FAA appears to have taken a totally defensive approach, partnering instead with the Department of Homeland Security:
Research on UAS detection systems may go beyond addressing the FAA’s concerns with the safety of UAS in the nation’s airspace. The effort also may contribute to keeping the skies safe from “bad actors” who want to use unmanned aircraft for malicious purposes. To that end, the agency signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with DHS in December to collaborate on the safe integration of UAS into the U.S. aviation system.
The focus on detection technology raises concerns about the FAA’s enforcement focus: the agency seems to be favoring technology that allows them to identify and punish drone operators who enter restricted space rather than technology that would keep them out in the first place. While the new SkyTracker technology may help to allay airline pilot’s fears about drone collisions, a more reasonable approach might be to study the actual effects of drones colliding with airplanes, which has not yet been done.
Miriam McNabb is the Editor-in-Chief of DRONELIFE and CEO of JobForDrones, a professional drone services marketplace, and a fascinated observer of the emerging drone industry and the regulatory environment for drones. Miriam has a degree from the University of Chicago and over 20 years of experience in high tech sales and marketing for new technologies.
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