Warner praises FAA decision to expand unmanned aircraft testing program to include airports
U.S. Sen. Mark Warner (D-VA) praised the Federal Aviation Administration’s (FAA) announcement that it will expand the Pathfinder Program – a public-private partnership to explore ways for unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) to operate safely in the U.S. – to include sensitive airport airspace. Senator Warner previously called on the FAA to develop a pilot project at an American airport to coordinate and interrelate UAS mitigation technology with an airport system to determine best practices.
Through the expanded Pathfinder initiative, the FAA will work with Arlington-based CACI International Inc. to evaluate how the company’s technology can help detect UAS in the vicinity of airports, while ensuring that the technology does not interfere with the safety and security of normal airport operations.
“I’m very pleased that the FAA will work with CACI to better protect airport airspace from potential ‘rogue’ drones. I’m optimistic that the prototypes developed from this program will help to create a framework for the safe and appropriate use of UAS at airports and in other sensitive airspaces,” Sen. Warner said. “Getting this safety framework right will put us in an even better position to unlock the enormous potential of this rapidly developing technology.”
Senator Warner’s letter to the FAA followed a series of recent episodes across the globe that have underscored the potential safety threats posed by small unmanned aircraft. In a high-profile incident in January, a recreational quadcopter crash-landed on the South Lawn of the White House. This August, pilots reported three drone sightings in three days in the highly-trafficked airspace near John F. Kennedy International Airport, prompting the Department of Homeland Security to issue warnings of possible terror attacks. Less than a week later, a pilot reported a drone sighting in the airspace of Newark Liberty International Airport. The FAA says pilots are spotting drones at a far higher rate, and is receiving at least two drone sightings reports from pilots daily.
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.
A PDF of Senator Warner’s May 11 letter urging Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx to work with the private sector on technology to defend sensitive airspaces against rogue UAS is available here.