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FAA proposes nationwide real-time tracking system for all drones

The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) is looking to launch a nationwide system to track drones in the sky in real-time, as well as connected pilot IDs.

The proposed tracking network, unveiled in a draft document released by the FAA this week, would cover everything from small consumer drones to larger unmanned aerial systems (UAS) operated for commercial purposes, Bloomberg reported on Thursday.

The network — part of efforts to integrate unmanned aircraft into the national airspace — would allow law enforcement to see the precise position of all drones in the sky across the U.S. at any given time, and help it to deal more effectively with rogue drone flights near restricted areas such as airports, prisons, and critical infrastructure.

“Remote I.D. technologies will enhance safety and security by allowing the FAA, law enforcement, and federal security agencies to identify drones flying in their jurisdiction,” U.S. Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao said in a release.

Such a system would also give hope to the increasing number of businesses pushing the FAA for more freedom to operate drone-based services. Amazon, for example, is keen to use the machines to deliver orders to customers’ homes, but current FAA regulations make such a service almost impossible to launch.

FAA: “An important building block”

In the document, the FAA describes the proposed tracking network as “an important building block in the unmanned traffic management ecosystem.”

It adds that the ability to identify and locate drones flying in U.S. airspace would provide additional situational awareness to manned and unmanned aircraft. “This will become even more important as the number of UAS operations in all classes of airspace increases. In addition, the ability to identify and locate UAS provides critical information to law enforcement and other officials charged with ensuring public safety,” the FAA said in the document.

If the proposed system comes into effect, it would include any drone that currently requires registration with the FAA, meaning any UAS weighing more than 250 grams. This covers the vast majority of drones currently out there, though, notably, not the recently released Mavic Mini, which DJI purposely built to tip the scales at just below 250 grams to enable owners to get the machine into the sky with minimal effort.

The FAA’s proposal will soon launch a 60-day comment period where everyone from industry experts to hobbyist drone pilots will be able to offer their opinions on the agency’s plan. If the proposed rule comes into force, the FAA said it would take up to three years to fully implement.

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Trevor Mogg
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