Anti-drone powers are urgently needed at airports, task force says

(Bloomberg) — A task force looking into ways to prevent small drones from disrupting commercial airports is urging federal officials to issue promised regulations, saying that there isn’t proper funding and legal authority to tackle the problem.

“We have to really push this and get it done quickly,” said Kevin Burke, president of the Airports Council International-North America, at a Washington event to release the group’s final report. “I would say time is of the essence here.”

The task force was established by the airport trade group and the Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International.

The use of small civilian drones has expanded rapidly in recent years while federal regulations and technology to oversee their use has lagged. As a result, incidents such as those at London’s Gatwick Airport last year have caused widespread disruptions and left airports with limited defenses.

The group, co-chaired by Michael Huerta, a former U.S. Federal Aviation Administration chief, and Deborah Flint, chief executive officer of Los Angeles World Airports, issued its final report Wednesday.

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The 47-page task force report said that drones “continue to represent a major challenge in and around the airport environment.” Drones have “great potential to disrupt operations” and introduce “substantial risk.”

It urged lawmakers in the U.S. and Canada to fund programs for federal agencies to work with airports on detecting and interdicting drones that fly into commercial airspace, and to give law enforcement the powers to do so. U.S. and Canadian law prohibits most airports from using anti-drone technology.

The report says that there isn’t funding and local legal authority to go after the most dangerous operators, those who have criminal intent.

“This creates a potential security gap and leaves the aviation community in the difficult position of balancing a potential a security threat with the reality of limited funds and authority to effectively respond to that threat,” the task force wrote.

The FAA is currently drafting regulations that would require small drones to have some kind of identification beacon to make it easier to track rogue devices. But it may be a year or more before such rules are completed.

Many of the technologies the FAA tested to help protect airports haven’t proven effective or violate federal law, according to the agency.

The FAA estimates there are at least 1.3 million drones in the U.S. used by hobbyists.

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