FAA proposes tracking most drones in US airspace

FAA proposes tracking most drones in US airspace
© Greg Nash

The country's top transportation regulator on Thursday proposed tracking nearly every drone in U.S. airspace, a rule that would pave the way for companies like Google and Amazon to deploy commercial drones across the U.S. 

The rule, the culmination of years of work by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), will create a system that allows law enforcement and the government to track drones throughout the sky, distinguishing between licensed aircraft vehicles and those that are suspicious or potentially threatening. It is a vital step toward creating an air traffic management system for these devices in the sky, therefore allowing widespread commercial drone delivery with the government's blessing. 

“As a pilot, my eye is always on safety first,” FAA Administrator Steve Dickson said in a statement. "Safety is a joint responsibility between government, pilots, the drone community, the general public and many others who make our nation so creative and innovative."

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The FAA is asking all drones to comply with the new rule within three years. The agency is also asking for public comments. The remote identification rule proposed on Thursday has been referred to as a system to create "virtual drone license plates." 

A drone industry trade group on Thursday raised concerns about the three-year timeline, which pushes off their ability to mainstream drone delivery for another several years. 

"Our main concern is the implementation period, which is needlessly up to 3 years," said Commercial Drone Alliance Executive Director Lisa Ellman in a statement. "Until remote ID is implemented, the American public will be deprived of many of the vast safety, humanitarian and efficiency benefits of commercial drones."

"We need implementation yesterday, not 3 years from now," she said. 

Members of the booming drone industry have complained that the FAA is dragging its feet as it crafts regulations that will make it legal to fly drones for commercial purposes. Right now, the government has only greenlighted small-scale drone delivery projects in specific areas, but it's holding back on allowing the buzzy aircraft to fill U.S. skies, warning that it could be extremely dangerous without proper limitations in place.  

Mainstream implementation of drone delivery services is likely still years off.