drone near jet (Jag_cz/Shuterstock.com)

FAA wants new ways to identify rogue drone pilots

As the British struggle to find and disable unmanned aerial systems (UAS) interfering with airport operations, the problem of identifying rogue drones has taken on new urgency.

At London's Gatwick Airport, a drone that was spotted just before Christmas grounded about 1,000 flights affecting 140,000 travelers over 36 hours while police tried to find the person piloting device.  The operator has not yet been identified even though the airport is offering a £50,000 reward for information leading to the arrest of those responsible, according to The Guardian.

On Jan. 8, departures from the city's Heathrow Airport were temporarily paused after a drone had been spotted.

The Federal Aviation Administration gets more than 100 reports each month from U.S. pilots, citizens and law enforcement officials who have spotted drones in unauthorized spaces, such as around airplanes, helicopters and airports. Unauthorized operators may be subject to stiff fines and criminal charges, including possible jail time – if they can be identified.

In a request for information issued Dec. 20, the FAA said it wants to find partners to help develop a practical approach to the data sharing required to remotely identify small drones in controlled airspace. The data collected would include a unique identifier for the UAS, tracking information and drone owner and remote pilot identification, according to the FAA's 2017 report on the remote ID program.

The FAA is seeking remote ID UAS service suppliers (USS) who, at no cost to the government, will participate in workshops; develop position papers, technical requirements, prototype technology demonstrations; and conduct demonstrations with the FAA and with other partners. The goal, according to the RFI, is to field initial capabilities across one or more private-sector platforms to gain experience, which will then be applied to "enhancing and scaling future capabilities as well as to broadening the user base of the demonstrations."

Eight participants are expected be selected, and they will develop a technical and legal framework for initial prototyping and testing that will inform a national capability.

Beyond-line-of-sight waiver

Meanwhile, the FAA granted insurance provider State Farm a national waiver to fly drones over people and beyond the operator's line of sight. State Farm uses the unmanned aircraft to assess property damage after catastrophic events, such as hurricanes floods and wildfires. It is the first company to be granted such a waiver.

In a Jan. 8 statement, the company said it had used temporary waivers for such operations. The FAA and others have had concerns about drones being flown over people and loss of operator control once the vehicles traveled beyond the line of sight of those operators.

The waiver allows State Farm's "claims pilots" to do such assessments anywhere in the U.S. through November of 2022. A State Farm spokeswoman said the FAA granted the waiver in November, but the company had to make some minor adjustments before formally announcing it.

FCW's Mark Rockwell contributed to this report.

About the Author

Susan Miller is executive editor at GCN.

Over a career spent in tech media, Miller has worked in editorial, print production and online, starting on the copy desk at IDG’s ComputerWorld, moving to print production for Federal Computer Week and later helping launch websites and email newsletter delivery for FCW. After a turn at Virginia’s Center for Innovative Technology, where she worked to promote technology-based economic development, she rejoined what was to become 1105 Media in 2004, eventually managing content and production for all the company's government-focused websites. Miller shifted back to editorial in 2012, when she began working with GCN.

Miller has a BA from West Chester University and an MA in English from the University of Delaware.

Connect with Susan at smiller@gcn.com or @sjaymiller.

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