The Federal Aviation Administration is working on new technology that can detect and identify drones and drone pilots who fly near airports, according to a contract obtained by Motherboard using the Freedom of Information Act.
The contract, between the FAA and CACI International, [dated 10/06/2015] notes that the tech will allow the FAA to “identify rogue unmanned aircraft systems” near airports and suggests that the agency believes some of its drone education outreach efforts are not working.
Since that announcement, few details of what the project is or how it works have been made public. The contract obtained by Motherboard, embedded below, titled “Cooperative Research and Development Agreement,” reveals more about the impetus behind the program—namely that the FAA believes its many drone education outreach efforts aren’t making the skies safe for manned aircraft.
“Data shows that current training, outreach, and educational campaigns are not sufficient deterrents to UAS interference at airports and other critical airspace,” the FAA wrote in the contract.
What to do about drones that fly near airports or at high altitudes has been quite the conundrum for the FAA, which recently mandated that all hobby drone pilots register themselves with the agency. As part of the registration process, you must promise to “not fly near aircraft, especially near airports.” The FAA has also started the “Know Before You Fly” drone education campaign to discourage people from flying unsafely.
This is an odd article and honestly, I debated running it.
CACI has not been a secret – there was a very public announcement and there have been several enthusiastic reports reporting successful tests at Atlantic City. Admittedly no press releases since, but that’s not unusual.
So it is not entirely clear to me what led Motherboard to request this information under the FOIA – Freedom of Information Act. Of course it is not clear what is redacted, or why. Though some of it is said to be confidential business information which is apparently protected under FOIA.
At the time of writing, the FAA recognized that its outreach efforts were ineffective – remember this was before the Christmas Registration panic and the half pounder rule. A contract is an odd place for that kind of admission, though I suspect it was there to add gravitas to the Cooperative Research and Development Agreement – under which CACI is not paid. And one suspects it was never intended to see the light of day.