FAA presses on anti-UAS testing

The Federal Aviation Administration is advancing testing of anti-drone technology at airports, as federal authorities say rogue unmanned aircraft remain a problem even in the pandemic.

drone near jet (Jag_cz/Shuterstock.com)

The Federal Aviation Administration is looking for four airports to help it test drone detection systems, as well as a contractor to facilitate those tests and other capabilities.

The FAA issued a solicitation looking for four large airports to join Atlantic City International Airport in New Jersey, to test counter-drone technologies beginning early next year.

The agency issued the solicitation in September, following up on a broad agency announcement for the detection project in August.

The FAA plans three tests for Unmanned Aerial Systems (UAS) detection and mitigation systems at the airports, possibly beginning as early as this coming January and extending into the end of 2021. Atlantic City International was the first of five planned designated airports to host testing aimed at controlling growing numbers of unauthorized drones impinging on protected airspace around public events and airports.

The agency said in August it wanted four large airports with over 2,300 acres of territory, to test anti-drone technologies from a variety of vendors.

The September solicitation put more flesh on the FAA's requirements, such as providing a $100,000 "stipend" to support the testing, which could involve as many as 10 detection system vendors.

In addition to the solicitation for more airports, at the end of September, the FAA issued a market survey soliciting information about UAS mitigation and management.

The draft also wants the same vendor to help with testing drone technologies that could monitor airport infrastructure, including doing obstruction analysis, pavement inspection, wildlife hazard management, perimeter security inspections and emergency response.

Unauthorized drones in protected airspace are a growing problem that federal authorities only see getting worse. Although the pandemic put a damper on big public gatherings beginning last winter, the Department of Justice said in an Oct. 13 statement it had detected hundreds of unauthorized unmanned aircraft flying near major public events in the last 12 months.

The DOJ said that between Oct. 1, 2019 and Sept. 30, 2020, the FBI's counter drone support for big public sporting and celebration events had detected over 200 drones flying in protected airspace around the events.

The department said it had also seized "about a dozen" drone aircraft during fiscal 2020 for violating flight restrictions at the events.

Although the period covered events held in the months before the pandemic forced the cancellation of large public gatherings, it also included 2020 Fourth of July celebrations in Washington D.C. In addition, the DOJ said federal prosecutors also brought charges against two people on Sept. 28, 2020 for flying a drone in protected airspace during the civil unrest in Portland, Ore.

DOJ vowed to step up its drone detection program as the pandemic recedes.

"As events return during and after this global pandemic, we will be out in force where needed, collaborating with our partners from the Federal Aviation Administration and the Department of Homeland Security, to protect the public from unsafe, careless, or malicious drone operators," said Deputy Attorney General Jeffrey Rosen in the DOJ statement.