Drones Pose Challenges to Airport Safety and Security

Unauthorized drones near airports have become a significant concern for aviation safety and security. The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) prohibits these flights due to the risks they pose to other aircraft and their potential to disrupt air traffic control. Local authorities, with assistance from the federal government, are responsible for responding to these incidents. Some federal agencies have the authority to use drone detection and counter-drone technologies in certain situations, and the FAA is planning for their use in the environment.

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Federal and Local Roles in Responding to Drone Incidents

According to tactical and airport response plans and a federal interagency agreement, local law enforcement authorities are expected to be the to a drone sighting near an airport. The federal government can provide assistance in responding to an incident as outlined in the interagency agreement. This collaborative approach ensures a coordinated response to address the potential threats posed by unauthorized drone flights.

Federal Legal Authorities for Counter-Drone Technologies

The Departments of Homeland Security (DHS), Justice (DOJ), Defense, and Energy have express statutory authority to use counter-drone technologies if certain criteria are met. They also have federal statutory exemptions from specified criminal laws that may apply to the use of such technologies. DHS and DOJ can use these technologies at an airport if the drone poses a credible threat to safety or security and the DHS Secretary or the Attorney General designates the airport for an emergency response. The Government Accountability Office (GAO) has concluded that modifications to statutory authorities for drone detection and counter-drone operations could better protect airports against active drone threats.

FAA Actions and Drone Integration Efforts

The FAA is currently testing drone detection and counter-drone technologies and is required to develop a plan for their use at airports. Simultaneously, the agency is pursuing several efforts to allow increased and routine drone operations. While the FAA acknowledges the potential effects of counter-drone technologies on other integration efforts, it does not address how it will assess those effects. Including steps for this assessment in the agency's forthcoming drone integration strategy could help ensure that these technologies work in harmony with other efforts, such as developing a drone traffic management system and rules for operating drones beyond operators' visual line of sight.

Unauthorized drone flights near airports present significant challenges to aviation safety and security. Local authorities and the federal government must work together to respond effectively to these incidents. As the FAA continues to test and plan for the use of drone detection and counter-drone technologies at airports, it is crucial to consider the potential impact on other drone integration efforts. By addressing these challenges and developing a comprehensive strategy, the FAA can ensure the safe and secure integration of drones into the national airspace while protecting airports from the threats posed by unauthorized drone flights.


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Haye Kesteloo
Haye Kesteloo

Haye Kesteloo is the Editor in Chief and Founder of DroneXL.co, where he covers all drone-related news, DJI rumors and writes drone reviews, and EVXL.co, for all news related to electric vehicles. He is also a co-host of the PiXL Drone Show on YouTube and other podcast platforms. Haye can be reached at haye @ dronexl.co or @hayekesteloo.

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