‘Careless, Clueless, and Criminal’ Drone Use Worries Lawmakers

  • Regulations will allow safe expansion of drone industry
  • Remote identification will identify “friend or foe” operators

Drone industry and federal agency representatives Wednesday unanimously supported the advancement of anti-drone technology, citing hobbyist and criminal device use as a threat to U.S. airspace at a House Transportation subcommittee roundtable.

The rapid expansion of the drone market has pushed supplier representatives, members of Congress and the Federal Aviation Administration to consider how the millions of hobbyist users and their unmanned aerial systems (UAS) should be monitored in U.S. airspace. “We have a multiplicity of agencies that are interested in being authorized to do counter UAS. The question is coordination and working with the complicated national airspace and not interfering with legitimate operations,” said Rep. Peter DeFazio (D-Ore.).

The roundtable came on the heels of a recent legal victory for the government on the issue of drone regulation. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit decided Friday the U.S. government can police hobbyist drones, upholding the FAA Modernization and Reform Act passed in 2012. The act gave the FAA authority to monitor hobbyist unmanned aircraft systems with the exception of model aircraft.

The July 6 ruling rejected the arguments of hobbyist John Taylor, who in 2017 argued all drone hobbyists were legally exempt from U.S. policing because of section 336 the 2012 law. At the roundtable, panelists agreed the U.S. should be able to identify all drones — hobbyists and otherwise — to ensure safety and security in U.S. airspace. When asked by lawmakers if section 336 of the Act should be revised, all panelists said that it should.

Friend or foe?

“We need the simultaneous reform of section 336 of the 2012 act to enable the FAA to implement basic rules, including remote ID,” said Lisa Ellman, the co-executive director of the Commercial Drone Alliance. “Without this reform, there’s no ability to tell friend from foe.”

Committee members and panelists shared concerns about the government’s current ability to identify drone operators when unregistered drones are found in unauthorized space.

“From the operator standpoint there are the careless, the clueless and the criminal.” said Douglas Johnson, a vice president for the Consumer Technology Association, an organization that supports and advocates for technology companies.

Angela Stubblefield, a deputy associate administrator with the FAA, said drone registration, remote identification and compliance with basic airspace rules should remain top priorities. These technologies and rules would not only give the government information on both harmless and potentially threatening devices, but also increase communication between commercial drone operators and pilots.

The case is Taylor v. Federal Aviation Administration, D.C. Cir., 16-1302, 7/6/18.

To contact the reporter on this story: Avery Ellfeldt in Washington at [email protected]

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Paul Hendrie at [email protected]; Jonathan Nicholson at [email protected]; John R. Kirkland at [email protected]

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