As demonstrated by a number of high-profile incidents involving major disruptions to air travel, privately operated unmanned aerial vehicles can pose a major threat to airport operations, and left unaddressed the problem will likely only get worse as the total number of drones in operation increases rapidly. In this context local or state law enforcement must be empowered to immediately respond to “rogue drones” that threaten to ground flights for safety reasons, according to the recommendations from an advisory committee composed of airport operators and current and former civil aviation officials, among others. For that to happen, however, the Federal Aviation Administration needs to issue the rules and regulations to provide the legal basis for these measures — and that in turn will likely require new powers delegated to the FAA by Congress.
- The report notes: “The fundamental issue at the root of these challenges and lack of solutions is the current UAS regulatory and legal framework.” Among the missing pieces is the lack of guidance on a system for Remote Identity: “Providing airports, law enforcement, and government with a critical tool that can identify and distinguish authorized UAS from those that may pose a safety or security threat greatly advances their ability to respond to and prevent potentially dangerous situations.”
- Once airport authorities and law enforcement are able to identify a drone operating too close to an airport, they should also be able to determine whether its operator is merely “clueless or careless” versus operating with criminal intent (while this will not necessarily change the nature of the immediate response, it could provide the basis for investigation and criminal prosecution later).
- Regardless of whether an unauthorized drone is determined to be operating by someone with criminal intent or not, law enforcement must also be empowered to respond to the threat in real time in order to minimize the disruption to the airport. This means interdiction, which can refer to methods for remotely disabling drones electronically, or “kinetic” methods — i.e., shooting the drone down the old-fashioned way.