Hidden in the 600 page FAA Reauthorization Act for 2018 is a key provision called “Preventing Emerging Threats,” which grants any federal agency the authority to shoot down private drones that are deemed a “credible threat.”
Here’s what the broadly written provision states: “…personnel with assigned duties that include the security or protection of people, facilities, or assets can disrupt, control, disable, intercept, interfere with, seize and exercise control of the drone.” The provision also gives those federal personnel the authority to damage or destroy drone, if necessary. Sounds pretty draconian, doesn’t it?
The draconian feeling comes from the fact, in its usual clumsy fashion, members of Congress wrote the provision in such a manner that it can be interpreted to mean any agency which has personnel with assigned security duties. Fact is, just about every agency in the Federal government not only has a security sector, but even their own police and investigative arms. All told, over 44 traditionally administrative agencies in the derail government have law enforcement agencies, with over 200,000 having arrest and firearm authority.
“Civilian drones are dangerous tools,” says Steven Poster, president of the International Cinematographers Guild (ICG). “like throwing a Cuisinart in the air and hoping for the best.”
This has sparked a debate amongst journalists and activists alike that the government is not only arming itself to the teeth, and has been for over a decade, but giving shoot down authority to even the most mundane agencies to act when it deems a threat to be credible. That means, technically, a post officer delivery driver can shoot your UAV down.
But in the case of drones, I kinda get it. According to Aviation International News, the University of Dayton Researchers Institute fired a DJI Phantom drone at the wing of an airplane at 238 mph The resulting impact showed that a drone completely penetrated the leading edge of the wing and did massive damage to the internal workings of an airplane wing, far worse than any large bird, like a goose.
UPDATE: DJI has responded to the Aircraft Drone Strike test and has withdrawn its support, claiming that the testing conditions represented an inaccurate and unrealistic conditions:
UDRI recklessly created and promoted a video that falsely claims to depict a dangerous condition posed by one of our products. UDRI staged its video to create a scenario inconceivable in real life, at a higher speed than the combined maximum speed of the drone and airplane, which is also faster than U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) testing guidelines. UDRI has not disclosed its testing methodology or the resulting data, and while it acknowledged that a similar test with a simulated bird caused “more apparent damage,” it has only promoted the video showing damage from a DJI drone.
DJI went on to demand that UDRI withdraw it’s testing results and stop promoting them.
Considering that the FAA has investigated hundreds of near misses with drones and airplanes in the last three years, and with National Forest Service complaining that drones are preventing air operations in fighting fires, it’s easy to see why the agency is concerned. On top of that, the NSA is considering worst case scenarios of drones being deployed by terrorists to wreak havoc and endanger lives. And when some yahoos in Texas start arming drones so that they can be used for hunting, it doesn’t take a lot of imagination to see how terrorists can use them.
But on the other hand, the provision in the law is incredibly broad and the fact that any federal agency having the power is extremely troublesome. I guess it really comes down to what threats the government decides are “credible” before they shoot a UAV down. And even though the FAA has given DJI some limited freedom to approve commercial drone flights within a narrowly defined area within a restricted airspace, that doesn’t mean commercial drone pilots won’t find they drones shot down when there’s a failure of communication.
Moreover, now that the feds have that broad power, it won’t be long before state and local law enforcement demand it. Citizens, on the other hand, don’t have that freedom, as shooting down a drone can be a federal crime that carries up to a $22,000 fine. Maybe I’ll just see what stock footage is available with Shutterstock and Pond5. They’re taking all the fun out of flying my drone.
Hat Tip – CNET