UAS: Even If You Can Find Them, You Can’t Identify or Stop Them!

While there will always be technological developments in the aviation industry, it is for the most part, a mature industry. On the other hand, the drone industry, measured against fixed wing and rotorcraft, is probably in the range of 20 percent mature. While drones have, in the defense world, been in use for decades, it’s only been in the last few years that drone technology has entered the commercial world.

As most everyone knows, in 2012, Congress mandated the integration of drones into the National Airspace System (NAS). That mandate initially resulted in the Section 333 exception process and, ultimately, in the enactment of Part 107 of the Federal Aviation Regulations.

Much, perhaps most, of this work remains to be done. While the FAA is granting waivers and exemptions for beyond visual line of sight operations, night operations, operations over people, and weight restrictions, these are the exception and not the rule. They require a petition with the FAA whereby the petitioner must demonstrate how they are achieving, among other things, the level of safe operations.

At the same time the exemption process is active, the FAA is pursuing new rulemakings to broaden the scope of permissible UAS operations. This has led FAA to predict explosive growth in the drone industry.

All of this poses a significant problem regarding drone identification and counter drone capabilities. The FAA still cannot remotely identify drones and registration numbers on the drone themselves. Unless you have the drone in hand or are able to see the numbers of a drone in flight, you are out of luck. Further, even if you can detect the presence of a drone, you can’t shoot it down, jam its radio signal, or take control of it. Federal law, and probably state laws as well, prohibit shooting down a drone. Federal law also precludes anyone other than the federal government, i.e. military, FBI, DEA, etc., from jamming radio signals.

To emphasize the problems associated with counter drone efforts, the FAA, on May 7, 2019, advised airports about “the prohibition on non-federal use of countermeasures or mitigation technologies…” and confirmed that the FAA “does not support the usage of C-UAS systems…by any entities other than the federal departments with explicit statutory authority…”

So, where are we? Rulemaking is underway. The growth of the UAS industry is predicted to be significant. But, against this backdrop, there is no current ability to remotely identify drones and active countermeasure systems, i.e. jamming, are not permitted.

It’s clear that the drone industry will continue to boom. But, unless and until we have a reliable remote identification system and an effective and legal C-UAS system that can be used by airports, sports facilities, amusement parks, chemical/nuclear/energy facilities which are at risk, the risk of a catastrophe continues to grow as well.

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