Sen. Mark Warner urges Department of Transportation to work on counter-drone technology

mark-warnerToday U.S. Sen. Mark R. Warner (D-VA), a member of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, urged the U.S. Secretary of Transportation to work with the private and public sector on technology to defend sensitive airspaces against possible threats posed by unmanned aircraft systems (UAS), also known as drones.

“While the vast majority of UAS operate safely, a series of high-profile incidents over the last year have shown that it is also necessary to develop rapidly technologies that can ensure the safe operation of drones around sensitive areas like airports and high-profile locations like the White House, where an unmanned drone landed in January,” Sen. Warner wrote in a letter to Secretary Anthony Foxx, noting that while drones have enormous potential for government and commercial use, their new ubiquity poses security challenges.

In addition to the incident on January 26, in which a recreational quadcopter crash-landed on the South Lawn of the White House, there has been a series of recent episodes across the globe that have underscored the potential safety threats posed by small unmanned aircraft. Late last year, French authorities revealed that unidentified drones had breached restricted airspace over more than a dozen of France’s nuclear power plants. In February and March of this year, several drones were spotted hovering near the Eiffel tower and other Parisian landmarks. Also in March, a drone was used in an attempt to smuggle drugs and weapons into a high security prison in Britain. And most recently, on April 22, a drone carrying radioactive sand landed on the roof of the Japanese prime minister’s office. After the operator turned himself into authorities, he confessed that he had also considered American facilities in downtown Tokyo as possible targets.

“In this regard, I recommend that the Department consider a pilot project at an American airport to coordinate and interrelate UAS mitigation technology with an airport system to determine best practices.  This could provide a blueprint for U.S. airports to establish protocols to protect airports against both innocuous recreational UAS mishaps as well as more nefarious incursions,”wrote the Senator. “As this is becoming such an important matter, I encourage you to personally take the lead in our federal government’s efforts to create a framework for the safe and appropriate usage of UAS.”

Sen. Warner has long advocated for the testing and development of UAS technology, having worked with his Virginia and Maryland colleagues to urge federal officials to select the mid-Atlantic region to host a UAS test range for researching the safest and most effective ways to incorporate UAS into the existing airspace. The UAS test site at Virginia Tech – one of six such sites across the country – became operational last year.

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