Federal agencies are scrambling to address a surge in the use of consumer drones as the unmanned aircraft crowd the airspace above critical sites, posing a threat to public safety and national security.
The Federal Aviation Administration and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration are developing a joint national air-traffic-control system for low-flying drones. The Department of Homeland Security is testing technologies to detect small drones favored by consumers, and the Pentagon is researching methods to knock them out of the sky.
Reports of drone sightings around airports are pouring into the FAA at a rate of more than 100 a month. Commercial pilots flying into and out of Los Angeles International Airport have reported increased sightings of drones near their flight path, with 23 sightings reported to the control tower so far this year, according to an airport official.
Drone incursions into the Los Angeles airport’s restricted airspace nearly tripled from 2019 to 2020, with a high of roughly 1,200 flights last June, according to WhiteFox Defense Technologies Inc., a California developer of drone-tracking technology.
With prices having dropped on small consumer models, drones are everywhere, used for fun and for business like land-surveying. Restricting their use creates a conundrum for regulatory, law-enforcement and intelligence agencies as they race to identify what is in the sky and to separate hobbyists from users with malicious intent.