ISC East 2019: FAA, Security Industry Moving Forward Together on Drone Regulation

New York – The worldwide, non-military drone market will triple in size to $14.3 billion in sales over the next decade, according to a recent study from aerospace analysis company Teal Group. The market is currently estimated at $4.9 billion, and the growth predicted in the study will depend largely on how the operation of drones in the U.S. and elsewhere is regulated by government agencies.

Angela Stubblefield, Chief of Staff at the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), says the agency is working on a holistic approach to Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS) and the safety and security around them.

Stubblefield opened her keynote address at ISC East in New York recently by noting drone technology offers many advantages, but also raises some serious security concerns.

“The FAA has laser sharp focus on UAS and we see safety and security as two sides of same coin,” said Stubblefield.

She said chief among the concerns are unwitting users who do not realize they are potentially putting safety at risk, as well as an increasing trend among criminals and terrorist to use drones to “weaponize delivery and direct attack.” UAS have been used for such purposes in Iraq, Syria and Yemen in recent years, said Stubblefield.

Stubblefield outlined the initiatives the FAA is involved in to develop a UAS security plan that includes activities across a full spectrum of risk mitigation, which she said includes prevention, detection, protection, and, when necessary, response. These efforts include continuous public education and outreach and support for law enforcement and public safety agencies. The FAA is also working with private industries to develop a required knowledge test for all recreational users.

In an interview with ISC News prior to the keynote address, Stubblefield said the FAA is thoroughly committed to trying to integrate unmanned aircraft systems into United States air national space so that they can exist and operate with all kinds of manned aircraft, but it is no small feat.

“The US national air system is the most complex in the world. Being able to integrate (UAS) has a lot of pieces to it. It has policy, regulation and operational pieces.”

Stubblefield said on the path toward making UAS safe in national air space, the agency is starting with building a regulatory roadmap and operational requirements. One part of that is rules around remote identification, which are still in the works. The UAS Identification and Tracking Aviation Rulemaking Committee submitted a report and recommendations to the FAA on technologies available to identify and track drones in flight and other associated issues.

The FAA is currently drafting a proposed rule on Remote Identification, which Stubblefield called the most important UAS rulemaking effort currently ongoing at the agency, and has issued a Request for Information (RFI) to establish an industry cohort to explore potential technological solutions for Remote ID.

“From a safety perspective, you have to know where an aircraft is at all times,” said Stubblefield. “Remote identification is going to do a lot to identify an operator. “And if they are not compliant, get that aircraft on the ground.”

But Stubblefield said the process for nailing down exact rules for remote identification has been challenging due to outdated laws.

“There are legal constructs that constrain the use of UAS detection technology and pretty much all mitigation technology. The ways in which a lot of the counter-UAS and some detection systems work, they implicate those laws. Those rules were written 50 years ago. Before UAS or counter-UAS was even possible.”

Security industry participants, who desperately want clarity around the kinds of technology they can manufacture and use to protect privately owned critical infrastructure have been waiting–impatiently in some instances–for the road map to move forward. Most understand, however, the complexity involved and the importance of getting Remote ID right before moving forward.

“There was some frustration from drone users that the FAA wasn’t acting quickly enough, but to its credit, I think they did a good job evolving from section 333 to what we are currently operating under,” said Joe Hoellerer, senior manager of government relations for security industry advocate SIA. “Right now they’ve taken in all the comments and trying to figure out the appropriate next step. How do they take what industry has recommended and combine it with a robust regulatory framework that also takes the safety of manned users, unmanned uses and the general public into consideration.”

The FAA has been working through the legal processes to give federal agencies support with counter-UAS authority, but that authority has not been expanded to state and local law enforcement, and that where Stubblefield hears a lot of concern now.

“They are saying ‘We’re on front lines and we don’t feel like we have authority to manage these threats,’” she said.

Another complexity added to the rule development around drones is that the industry manufacturing and integrating UAS into security solutions is a new kind of stakeholder from the FAA’s perspective, said Stubblefield.

“We’re used to aircraft manufacturers and airlines and those are known to us. When you talk about UAS, you open it up substantially. And rule-making is a foreign language to them. When you buy and use a UAS, you are now a pilot in FAA system. You can go to Best Buy or on Amazon get something that people think about as a technology. But when you fly them, you have a very powerful tool and you can impose risk on the system.  We have a responsibility to ensure it does not cause safety harm to the greater airspace. We don’t want to create a safety problem to solve a security problem.”

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Article Written by Joan Goodchild | View all articles by Joan Goodchild