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Blue Ribbon Task Force Calls for Government Action and Trained Law Enforcement to Safeguard Airports from Unauthorized Drones

BY Isabella Lee
8 October 2019

The Blue Ribbon Task Force (BRTF) is pushing U.S. Congress and the Canadian Cabinet to take action after recent drone incidents at and around North American Airports. The Task Force released its report on unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) integration, detection, identification, and mitigation in and around airports earlier this month with recommendations for a ‘shared responsibility’ approach to UAS detection. The BRTF takes the position that airports should not be burdened with undertaking this operation alone.

Whether the origin of drone activity near airports is careless, clueless or criminal, the escalating frequency of drone-related incidents present a security, operational, and economic challenge to North American airports and their surrounding communities.

—Deborah Flint, Chief Executive Officer, Los Angeles World Airports (LAWA).

BRTF UAS Mitigation Airports (1)

What is the Blue Ribbon Task Force?

The Blue Ribbon Task Force (BRTF) is a group commissioned by the Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International (AUVSI) and Airports Council International-North America (ACI-NA) in April 2019 to study the issue of UAS integration, detection, identification, and mitigation in and around airports.

The group is co-chaired by Michael Huerta, former administrator of the FAA, and Deborah Flint, CEO of Los Angeles World Airports. Huerta was responsible for the safety and efficiency of the largest aerospace system in the world and oversaw a $15.9 billion budget and more than 47,000 employees while serving as the FAA Administrator from 2013 – 2018. Flint currently oversees the operations of Los Angeles International (LAX) and Van Nuys (VNY) airports. LAX is currently the fourth busiest airport in the world.

The BRTF has been studying the issue of UAS incidents at airports with the goal of establishing a policy framework for UAS mitigation at airports and how best to mitigate this threat. Beyond UAS mitigation at airports, the BRTF will also lead future conversations about UAS mitigation at other facilities (national landmarks, stadiums, public gatherings, prisons, military bases, etc.).

The Blue Ribbon Task Force’s Recommendations for UAS Mitigation at Airports

The final report builds on the policy recommendations the Task Force outlined in its July 2019 interim report, which urged federal aviation agencies to move forward with a remote identification rule. In the final report, the Task Force recommends:

  • Lawmakers should do more to ensure the FAA and Transport Canada are adequately funded to undertake UAS detection in conjunction with airport operators. The final report identifies an unacceptable security gap at many airports across the U.S. and Canada, with no federal role in UAS detection and often no resources for an airport role to engage in UAS detection operations.
  • Lawmakers should extend authority to engage in UAS interdiction—kinetic or electronic—to trained law enforcement officials tasked with safeguarding airports and the immediate surrounding areas. The deputation of counter-UAS authority to these officials should begin with a pilot program overseen by the Department of Justice (DOJ) in consultation with the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), in the U.S., and DOJ and Public Safety in Canada (PSC), to establish protocols, training, and practice exercises.

“I am very excited about the new opportunities that commercial UAS applications create for our economy and the value the technology adds to airports; however, the integration of approved operations and detection and mitigation of unapproved UAS must be attentively managed and properly funded and staffed at all levels,” said Task Force Co-Chair Michael Huerta, who served as Administrator of the Federal Aviation Administration from 2011-2018.

A UAS Response Plan Template for Airports

The report also contains feedback on the U.S. Transportation Security Administration’s (TSA) draft Tactical Response Plan (TRP) for UAS incursions at airports.

ACI-NA President and CEO, Kevin Burke, lauded the Task Force’s airport playbook.

“When an unauthorized UAS is spotted on an approach pathway or over a runway, what is an airport to do? The playbook put forward by the Task Force represents a necessary component to determining the threat level, the appropriate responses, and ensuring there is proper communication with all relevant stakeholders in a timely fashion. This will be an essential tool for airports to develop or refine their response protocols,” he said.

After discussions with dozens of airport operators in the U.S. and Canada, the Task Force noted that most do not have a comprehensive plan to deal with errant UAS—whether careless, clueless, or criminal. Further, most airports do not have a plan for integrating compliant UAS operations either.

It is no longer acceptable for a lack of legal framework, understanding of technology, or authority to be the reasons airports remain at risk of a serious UAS event.

—BRTF Final Report

The Task Force developed guiding principles for airports seeking to write these critically important plans and recommends ways to drill them just as airports would other emergency procedures.

Share your thoughts on the Task Force’s recommendations for airports, the FAA, and Transport Canada in this thread on our community forum.

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