The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has proposed rules for the identification of nearly all civilian drones in the United States, a move that is set to boost public safety and help authorities keep track of the growing fleet of commercial drones.
The regulation would require all drones that weigh more than 0.55 pounds (0.25 kilograms) to transmit data to air traffic control relating to their position as well as their the operator’s identity.
A draft version of the document has been made available online; the proposal is due to be put on the Federal Register on 31 December and could still be amended following the comment period. The measures will come into effect within three years after being finalised.
The baffling Colorado affair
Just days after the appearance of mysterious nighttime drone flights over Colorado, local authorities are struggling to find out the purpose of the missions and the identities of the operators.
The Denver Post reported this week that at least 17 mystery machines have been flying over the counties of Phillips and Yuma in northeast Colorado for the last week, emerging each night around 7 p.m. and flying away at around 10 p.m.
Phillips County Sheriff Thomas Elliott told the newspaper that the drones were seen gliding at around 60 to 90 meters above ground in grid-like patterns of about 40 square kilometres. The square-by-square flying pattern is suggestive of a search or mapping operation.
Who was behind those flights?
The drones are estimated to have a speed of 30 to 40 mph (48 to 64 kph) and wingspans of 6 feet (1.8 meters) – something the sheriff’s office said rules out hobbyists as possible pilots.
The sheriff, the FAA, the Drug Enforcement Administration, and the Army all have no clue as to who is operating the machines.
Vic Moss, a drone pilot and educator, told The Denver Post the drones could be testing something on behalf of a private company. Still, if this were the case, such a firm would be expected to coordinate with local authorities to prevent unnecessary speculation.
Under federal regulations, drone pilots are not required to reveal their positions. Drones that weigh less than 55 pounds (25 kilograms) are allowed to fly only in daylight and twilight hours. However, an aircraft of the size spotted over Colorado would likely weigh more, so they don’t seem to be violating any law.
“They do not seem to be malicious,” Sheriff Elliott said. “They don’t seem to be doing anything that would indicate criminal activity.” His office has received nine reports about the drones since last week.
Shooting down a drone is a federal crime because drones qualify as aircraft under federal law, which leaves the locals with their hands tied.
“We just want to know if one lands, if we can get our hands on it, or if they see someone operating them, that’s what we’re looking for now,” Elliott added. “We know they exist.”