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FAA Orders Increased Surveillance of UAS Operations in Areas Where Drone Incidents are High

BY Isabella Lee
3 April 2019

The FAA has ordered increased surveillance of drone operations in areas where reports of risky or noncompliant drone operations are high. Some sites identified for increased surveillance include communities near airports, areas with wildfire activity, and areas with ongoing emergency response efforts.

Intensified surveillance could result in increased ramp checks and enforcement actions against drone pilots who don’t follow the FAA’s guidelines for operating a drone.

drone surveillance

Increased Surveillance of Drone Operations to Start Immediately

The FAA has given the task of this increased surveillance to their Flight Standards District Offices (FSDO). The FSDO has been ordered to incorporate the new Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS) surveillance requirements immediately.

These surveillance activities will be triggered when any of the following scenarios are met:

  • Where 5 or more UAS investigations occur within Class B, C, or D airspace, or 10 or more total investigations occur in any airspace
  • When 10 or more sightings occur at an airport or there is a significant increase in the number of UAS sightings, as notified by AFG leadership
  • When supporting enforcement actions against any UAS operations that interfere with wildfire, law enforcement, or emergency response

Surveillance Will Provide FAA with Methods to Target Noncompliant Drone Operators

The increased surveillance is part of a broader UAS oversight strategy.

Until recently, it has been unclear what risk UAS pose to the National Airspace System compared to the known risks in General Aviation. Over the course of the previous year, the FAA has been analyzing data from drone sightings and investigations to develop a more robust risk profile for UAS. The FAA summarized their findings as follows:

“The analysis indicates UAS do pose potential risks to air transport due to UAS sightings in communities bordering airport approach and departure paths. Additional potential risks were identified from noncompliant operations that would require local analysis to target, and noncompliant operators also pose potential risk to firefighting, law enforcement, and emergency response efforts.”

FAA Notice N 8900.504

The FAA publicly shares data on UAS sighting reports on their website and states that over 100 sightings are reported each month. Some of the incidents reported are difficult to verify, given that many of the observers who report these sightings cannot state what exact type of aircraft they saw, given the small size and distance of the sighted drone from the observer. On the other hand, some of these UAS sightings had real and drastic impacts, such as the alleged drone sighting that shutdown Newark Airport in New Jersey and drone sightings that delayed firefighting efforts in California.

The FAA’s new initiative to identify and target risky drone operators by increasing surveillance is a direct response to the increasing number of UAS sightings.

How Increased FSDO Surveillance Will Impact Drone Pilots

Increased FSDO surveillance activities may lead to more enforcement actions against drone pilots. However, this is nothing to worry about if you’re operating your drone safely, remaining cognizant of TFRs, and following the FAA’s guidelines for drone operations.

The only people who should be negatively affected by these increased surveillance activities are negligent drone operators, particularly those who are breaking the FAA’s rules for commercial operations of small UAS. The goal is to identify and take action against these risky operators in order to make the skies safer for the remaining majority of operators who pilot their unmanned or manned aircraft safely.

If you do mistakenly brake the rules or your operation comes into question by an FSDO investigator, you may undergo what’s called a “ramp check.” A ramp check occurs when an FSDO requests to see your drone, and any associated documents/records required to be kept under the Part 107 rule, for inspection or testing. We’ve put together a list of what you need to have with you in order to comply with a ramp check.

Safer skies are something we imagine most all of us can get behind, but the FAA still has yet to demonstrate strong enforcement action against negligent drone operators. Share your thoughts on the increased surveillance activity and a possible increase in enforcement actions in this thread on our community forum.

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