Last updated: 10:25 AM ET, Thu March 17 2016

Will Airports Soon Be Fighting Back Against Drones?

Airlines & Airports | Josh Lew | March 17, 2016

Will Airports Soon Be Fighting Back Against Drones?

Photo courtesy of Thinkstock

Drones have caused safety concerns at airports around the world. Near collisions between these unmanned fliers and commercial jets are becoming more commonplace. The rising popularity of drones has played a role in the increase of incidents. However, the biggest problem is that pilots, whether knowingly or not, often ignore no-fly zones near airports that are meant to keep such near misses from happening.

There have been increasingly loud calls for better enforcement of drone no-fly zones. Supporters of this idea point to new technology, which could make it easier to detect drones flying around airports and also locate their pilots. Other anti-drone systems could jam the frequencies that pilots use to control their crafts remotely.

READ MORE: How Airbus Is Using Technology to Defeat Jet Lag, Drones

Legislation to improve enforcement

One U.S. senator wants to make legislation that would allow some of this technology to be put to use so the government can create a drone-intercept program that will enforce no-fly zones around American airports. Florida’s senior senator, Bill Nelson, has added anti-drone legislation to the version of the FAA reauthorization bill created by the Senate’s Commerce Committee.

The bill, which has already been approved by the committee, includes funding for a pilot program that would be used to develop drone intercept systems at U.S. airports.

To protect the flying public

The bill would basically allow airports to test various anti-drone systems. These systems would allow airports to track or jam drones that operate within restricted zones around airports. The same technology will also be tested at military facilities and even at certain NASA installations.

Nelson’s office released a statement that explains why the senator pushed for this particular piece of legislation to be added to the bill: “The bottom line is that we need to do everything we can to protect the flying public from the threat posed by drones. We can’t afford to have one of those drones bring down an airliner.”

Everyone agrees on the law, but enforcement is the problem

Nelson cited 241 near-misses between drones and airplanes that had been recorded in the United States. The senator’s state has had a high number of incidents, with 24 near collisions happening in Miami and 13 in Orlando.

Before he made the push to add this legislation to the FAA bill, Nelson met with representatives from Florida’s largest airports. They expressed concerns about the increasing number of amateur drone pilots who seemed to be ignoring (or perhaps were just ignorant of) laws that currently ban the aircraft from land near airports.

READ MORE: Own a Drone? The FAA Now Requires Registration

If the Senate’s FAA bill passes in its current form, airports will have the power to act on their drone problems. Since Nelson’s legislation is basically a pilot program, it will take time to find the best anti-drone systems and develop them. However, the process of dealing with drones in flight paths will have finally started.

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