FAA to Seek Comments on Measures to Address Drone Risks

Transportation Update

Date: February 07, 2019

Key Notes:

  • The FAA will be seeking input on measures to mitigate public safety and national security risks presented by drones.
  • Recent events demonstrate that drones pose safety and security risks to airports, sporting events, and other sensitive infrastructure and public events.
  • Entities concerned about the risks of drone operations or about how safety and security limitations would impact their drone operations should submit comments.

The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) recently announced that it would solicit comments on regulatory measures to address public safety and national security risks posed by drones, which could result in the FAA limiting drone use or imposing onerous drone design standards. Thus, drone users and manufacturers, as well as businesses and other entities for which drones pose a safety risk, such as airports and power plants, should consider providing feedback to the FAA on appropriate measures to mitigate drone safety and security risks.

The FAA’s announcement outlines five categories of safety and security measures it is considering:

  • Minimum stand-off distances. The FAA acknowledges that drones’ ability to operate within close proximity to people and structures poses safety and security concerns. It is seeking comments on whether it should impose minimum vertical and horizontal clearances from people and objects for drone operations.
  • Performance limitations. The FAA expresses concern that the extreme maneuverability of many drones, some of which can accelerate from 0 to 60 mph in less than one second, can create safety and security hazards. It is seeking comments on whether it should place altitude, airspeed and other performance limitations on drones.
  • Traffic management. The FAA is concerned that drones can pose safety hazards to other aircraft or be used to gain access to sensitive areas because they are difficult to detect and identify. It would like suggestions on implementing traffic management measures, like remote identification and required sharing of flight information.
  • Payload limitations. The FAA recognizes that a drone’s payload can present significant safety and security concerns. Small drones can carry heavy payloads, which increases the potential for crash damage. They also can carry sensors that enable them to perform illegal surveillance as well as hazardous materials or other items that can be used for malicious activity. Thus, the FAA is exploring payload prohibitions as a risk-mitigation measure.
  • Reliability. The FAA believes that increasing the reliability of critical systems on drones, such as engines and communications links, will reduce the risk of crashes and incursions involving restricted airspace. It is seeking feedback on whether it should impose design requirements, like redundancy, for these systems.

Recent events underscore the need for more action by regulators and law enforcement. In the past two months, drones sighted near London’s Gatwick Airport and Newark Liberty International Airport brought flight operations to a halt, causing travel disruptions for thousands of passengers. Drones were also seen flying above this year’s Super Bowl festivities, despite the FAA declaring the surrounding area a “No Drone Zone.” These incidents demonstrate that existing regulations, which prohibit unauthorized drone flights around major airports and events, are not enough to protect against risks posed by people who are ignorant of the rules, careless or malicious. Thus, education, stepped-up enforcement and counter-drone technologies, in addition to regulation, will likely be necessary to address safety and security concerns.

Regulators and law enforcement are not the only parties who should be concerned about these issues. A safety or security incident involving a drone, intentional or not, could cause a backlash against drones, potentially delaying important regulations necessary to enable critical commercial drone applications or begetting new prohibitions that could stifle the industry. To protect their interests, drone users and manufacturers must work with regulators and law enforcement to develop sensible solutions to mitigate safety and security risks related to drone operations.

FOR MORE INFORMATION

For more information, please contact:

Brent Connor
202.263.4188
Brent.Connor@ThompsonHine.com

Jason D. Tutrone
202.263.4143
Jason.Tutrone@ThompsonHine.com

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