Restricting Drone Usage at the Local Level

A recent report on the efforts of the Sedona Oak Creek Airport Authority and the US Forest Service in the American state of Arizona to ban drones flying in their vicinity raised questions over the right of local authorities and private property owners to ban drones in their airspace.

If you are a security administrator or local legislator, is simply passing a no-drone ordinance in your community, or posting a “No Drones” sign at the entrance of your site enough to keep drones out?

More Drones, More Problems

It’s a question worth pondering. An estimated 7 million civilian drones will take to the skies by 2020 in the US alone. And sightings of unauthorized drones in sensitive areas, including around airports, have spiked as well.

And in Britain the UK Airprox Board reported 147 incidents involving drones around the country’s airports over the past 10 months of 2018, including 65 serious “class A or B” incidents; described as situations putting aircraft at high risk of collision. And the end of 2018 saw the disastrous closure of the UK’s second business airport, Gatwick, due to repeated and intention drone intrusions into its no-fly zone.

Given recent events, it’s no surprise that local municipal and airport authorities, as well as private property owners, are attempting to protect themselves by pushing through drone bans.

Not So Fast

But as indicated in the article evoked above, Sedona ran into a common problem for municipal authorities in developed countries – namely that interfering with civil aviation, which includes drones – is not a local right.

In the US and UK, all civil air activity is administered at the national level by the Federal Aviation Authority and Civil Aviation Authority respectively. Both guarantee the right of their citizens to fly UAVs in unrestricted airspace – even if communities, small airports or private citizens below the devices’ flight path are opposed. And for the moment, they prohibit (US, UK) anyone other than specially authorized law enforcement from taking direct action against drones.

Such communities or individuals can pass all the anti-drone legislation or post all the “No Drones” signage they wish, but as long as they are prevented from physically stopping the devices, their rules are basically unenforceable. And any attempt to actually take down a drone may expose the interceptor to legal troubles.

A “Hands Off” Approach to Anti-Drone Efforts

There is a workaround. While drone interception technologies like jamming or drone guns are not permitted under most current aviation codes without hard-to-obtain authorization, adopting a “hands off” approach to anti-drone actions allows security administrators to minimize and even eliminate the danger a rogue drone poses while staying on the right side of the law.

Radio frequency, radar and optic-based detection systems allow an administrator to “see” a drone in their airspace before the device becomes visible to the naked eye. Such technologies are passive, meaning they don’t emit the kinds of signals that may interfere with communication systems and thus they’re much simpler to obtain and operate with minimal or sometimes no permits.

Furthermore, radio frequency allows the added possibility of obtaining a drone pilot’s location, making it easier to direct local law enforcement to the source of the offense without ever touching the drone itself.

Simple is Best

The laws governing drone use continue to evolve, playing an endless cat-and-mouse game with new innovations. But a little creative thinking and a “tech neutral approach” using detection and pilot location may be just to trick to make local skies safer while keeping legal complications away.

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