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FAA to test anti-drone tech for pinpointing illegal operators near airports

Whether it’s a bozo hobbyist or someone more sinister, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) seems resigned to the fact that there’s always going to be a few quadcopter pilots willing to put lives in danger by flying their remotely controlled machines close to busy airports.

With reports of such incidents on the rise, and sales of the device set to soar this holiday season, the FAA is determined to find an effective way of improving sky safety around airports.

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Its latest effort, reported this week by Phys.org, involves a deal with Virginia-based tech firm CACI International that’ll enable the pair to test out a possible solution.

CACI’s technology acts on a drone’s radio waves to pinpoint both the machine and its operator within a large specified area. According to CACI, its system “provides a proven way to passively detect, identify, and track” both an unmanned flying machine and its operator, giving airport security the opportunity to act swiftly to end the incursion and deal appropriately with the drone’s owner. The schedule for testing and possible implementation of CACI’s technology hasn’t been disclosed.

Related: FAA proposes record $1.9 million fine against drone operator for “unauthorized ” flights

FAA deputy administrator Michael Whitaker told the the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee on Wednesday that there are now around 100 reports a month of drones flying perilously close to planes and airports, up from just a few sightings each month in 2014.

Fearful that a direct hit with even a small drone could cause catastrophic damage to an aircraft’s engine or cockpit windshield, and mindful that quadcopters and similar remotely controlled flying machines are continuing to grow in popularity, the FAA knows that rules alone are not enough to prevent the growing problem of drone flights close to airports.

As things stand, drone operators have to stay at least five miles from an airport and fly their copter at an altitude of no higher than 400 feet, while keeping it in sight at all times.

CACI’s technology could also come in useful during other critical situations, such as wildfire emergencies – authorities in California recently slammed drone operators for occupying airspace and disrupting first responders’ efforts during devastating fires in the state.