FAA to U.S. airports: Do not install drone countermeasures on your own

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The Federal Aviation Administration told U.S. airports in a letter released on Wednesday they could not install drone countermeasures without federal consent, warning they could pose an aviation safety risk by interfering with aircraft navigation and air navigation services.

The FAA said only federal agencies with explicit authority should install systems designed to detect and potentially destroy drones. The agency added: “There are many related efforts that are under way that will make it easier to identify drone operators.”

There has been rising concern about drones near U.S. airports.

In January, the FAA said 43 flights into New Jersey’s Newark Liberty International Airport were required to hold after a nearby reported drone sighting.

London’s second busiest airport, Gatwick, was severely disrupted in December when drones were sighted on three consecutive days.

Last year, Congress granted the Justice and Homeland Security departments authority to disable and destroy drones.

The FAA told airports that the law did not “provide authority to deploy and use (drone countermeasures) as a standing asset to protect airports.” But the agencies are assessing how they could respond “to a persistent serious (drone) disruption of operations at an airport.”

In April, the FAA said it was investigating a drone that hovered over Boston’s Fenway Park during a Red Sox baseball game.

Also last month, two U.S. senators urged Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao to finalize a long-delayed rule to require the remote identification of drones.

Congress tasked the FAA in 2016 with issuing regulations or guidance by July 2018 that could permit the public, the FAA, law enforcement and others to remotely track and identify drones and their operators during flight.

The agency told a Senate panel on Wednesday it would publish the rule by July.

Last week, the Association for Unmanned Vehicles Systems International and Airports Council International-North America launched a task force to address drone at airports and at “landmarks, stadiums, prisons and military bases.”

Kevin Burke, president and chief executive of the airport group, said last month: “We have found ourselves in a new situation with no clear playbook.”

The task force includes former FAA Administrator Michael Huerta; Deborah Flint, CEO of Los Angeles World Airports; NFL Senior Vice President of Security Cathy Lanier and former Transportation Security Administration chief John Pistole.

Reporting by David Shepardson; Editing by Peter Cooney

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