Feds expand efforts to detect drones near airports

Feds expand efforts to detect drones near airports

The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) is expanding efforts to detect drones that fly too close to airports — one of the biggest challenges in safely integrating unmanned aircraft systems into the nation’s airspace.

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The FAA signed three Cooperative Research and Development Agreements this week to evaluate procedures and technologies that can identify unauthorized drone operations in and around airports.

The effort is part of the agency’s “Pathfinder Initiative” that explores how additional types of unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) can be integrated into the airspace.

“Sometimes people fly drones in an unsafe manner,” said Marke Gibson, FAA’s senior advisor on UAS integration. “Government and industry share responsibility for keeping the skies safe, and we’re pleased these three companies have taken on this important challenge.”

The companies’ sensor detection systems will be evaluated by FAA and the Department of Homeland Security for how effective they are and whether they interfere with normal airport operations.

FAA has been grappling with a sharp increase in the number of UAS sightings near airports over the last two years.

Reports in April indicated a drone may have struck a British Airways plane near London’s Heathrow Airport. It was later thought to have actually been a plastic bag, but the incident stoked public fear about drones flying near planes.

Some lawmakers want to see the FAA go a step further than just detection efforts.

“While this is a welcome step, we need to do more than just detect rogue drones; we need to disable them if they pose a threat to the flying public,” Sen. Bill NelsonClarence (Bill) William NelsonNelson campaign to donate K from Al Franken group to charity Political shenanigans mask true problems in Puerto Rico The Hill's Morning Report — Sponsored by United Against Nuclear Iran — The Hill interviews President Trump MORE (D-Fla.), ranking member of the Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee, said in a statement.

A long-term reauthorization of the FAA that passed the Senate last month contains language requiring the agency to research ways to intercept or shut down unmanned drones near airports and other sensitive areas.