What was thought to be drones temporarily shut down traffic near Newark Liberty International Airport in New Jersey recently. Now officials say they are unsure exactly what it was that two pilots spotted in the air. (A bird? A superhero?) Still, the incident points to the importance of upcoming action from the Federal Aviation Administration that could aid in similar situations and pave the way for wider use of a technology that promises manifold advantages.
Secretary of Transportation Elaine Chao announced this month that the FAA will work on standards this year for remote identification of small unmanned aircrafts.
Officials also plan to allow pilots to fly over crowds and at night without a waiver, provided they meet certain requirements. It’s an encouraging pair of proposals: Remote ID will make drones safer, and the step up in safety will make it easier to eliminate restrictions that hamper a burgeoning industry.
The future of drones in the United States has little to do with armed robots swarming darkened skies and much more to do with farmers checking on crops and livestock from afar, or emergency services surveying the aftermath of a natural disaster.
Pilots are still generally required to keep drones within their lines of sight, which is reasonable for unsophisticated vehicles that lack the ability to fly autonomously and stay out of trouble.
But manufacturers have already started experimenting with “geofencing,” which automatically prevents drones from entering prohibited airspace.
The FAA has awarded contracts for crafting safeguards like these; those efforts should continue and expand.
Then the agency should consider lifting prohibitions on properly outfitted aircraft.
Whatever requirements apply to commercial drones should apply to recreational drones, too.
-The Washington Post