With a growing list of airport operation disruptions attributed to drones and a growing array of countermeasures being pitched by industry, the FAA sent a memo May 7 to airport sponsors urging caution, noting that authority to interdict unmanned aircraft is reserved for specific federal agencies.
Reported drone sightings have in recent months led to significant, headline-grabbing disruptions at major airports including Newark Liberty International Airport in New Jersey and Gatwick Airport in London, England. The FAA noted these incidents in the memo, and expressed a shared concern over the negative impacts. However, the agency does not endorse any deployment of unmanned aircraft system countermeasures at airports:“FAA currently does not support the usage of C-UAS systems, which include active interdiction capabilities, by any entities other than the federal departments with explicit statutory authority to use this technology,” the agency wrote. “Entities seeking to evaluate or deploy UAS detection systems should be aware the evaluation or deployment of such systems, even systems that are marketed as passive detection systems, may implicate provisions of law (such as title 18 of the United States Code) on which the FAA cannot authoritatively opine.”
Federal Communications Commission regulations broadly prohibit electronic “jamming” of radio frequencies, including those used by unmanned aircraft. The FAA recently advised Miami police to discontinue drone jamming that was underway in the vicinity of a popular music festival.
More than one company has developed and brought to market electronic jamming devices intended to target drones, though such systems can potentially disrupt manned aircraft navigation, communication, and surveillance systems, and their use by non-federal entities is not permitted under current regulations. AOPA actively supports efforts to educate pilots of all aircraft types, which is a mitigation that does not add risk to aircraft operations. Existing systems and procedures already facilitate advisories to airmen and airport operators about various potential risks, including bird and other wildlife activity, laser activity, and unmanned aircraft activity. AOPA continues to collaborate with all stakeholders to ensure that current and future risk mitigations are fully considered, and to integrate unmanned aircraft into the National Airspace System without compromising safety.
The FAA noted that installing counter-UAS systems at an airport has other implications, including potential violation of 14 CFR Part 77 requirements for FAA review prior to installation or modification of structures in the airport environment. The FAA urged airport operators to consult the agency prior to any deployment of new systems or structures.
“Coordination prior to the installation and/or deployment of UAS detection systems enables the FAA to provide technical assistance regarding regulatory and grant assurance compliance. Further, the operational use of UAS detection systems may provoke response actions that disrupt air traffic operations at your airport or otherwise introduce undesirable safety and efficiency impacts,” the agency wrote. “These potential second-order effects can be effectively addressed through risk-based procedures coordinated with the FAA.”
The FAA has also developed a “UAS Sighting Checklist” for air traffic controllers. If a drone is reported or sighted, an advisory will be broadcast to pilots operating in the area making them aware of the other vehicle. If a security threat or safety hazard becomes apparent, controllers have flexibility to adjust traffic flows and traffic patterns, change runways, and delay or terminate arrivals and departures. There is also increased emphasis on drone sightings to be reported.