Drone Safety Enhancement Act (S 3511, 115th Congress)

The Policy

What it does

Encourages efforts to promote public awareness of safety required for unmanned aircraft vehicles(drones) and review process and standards that combat harm drones could bring.

Synopsis

The goal of this bill (S 3511) is to appropriate $1,000,000 each year from 2019 through 2014 to the Administrator of the Federal Aviation Administration with the intent of bringing about an educational campaign called Know Before You Fly as well as similar public education efforts. The Know Before your Fly campaign provides prospective owners with information about how to safely and responsibly fly drones.  Another provision of this bills amends section 2209 of the FAA Extension, Safety, and Security Act of 2016 to include railroad facilities as facilities capable of requesting the FAA to prohibit the operation of drones on their premises. Finally, this bill also directs the FAA to work with other governmental agencies to review the process and standards with which the Administration currently uses for interagency coordination of the Counter-Unmanned Aircraft System (C-UAS) activity and operation of a C-UAS system.  

Specifically, this bill directs that within 60 days of this bill’s passing that the FAA will review the following measures regarding C-UAS activities: 

  • Processes for establishing and coordinating inter-agency operations of C-UAS activities; 
  • Development of standards for C-UAS activities, with special attention given towards the following considerations: 
  • Preserving the safety of the national airspace as well as persons and property on the ground; 
  • Ensuring the non-interference of air traffic control systems and legally abiding aircraft; 
  • Adequate training, coordination, and consistency for C-UAS protocols and procedures; 
  • Efficient and effective processes of coordination and review by the FAA; and 
  • Any other considerations identified by the FAA. 

Further, within 180 days of this Bill’s passing the FAA will submit a report of its review of C-UAS operations, as well as on-going C-UAS operations throughout the country, to the Senate committees on Armed Services and Commerce, Science, and Transportation. An identical report will also be submitted by the FAA to the House committees on Armed Services as well as Transportation and Infrastructure.

Context

UAS is an acronym for unmanned aircraft systems such as drones that can be controlled through an operator without having anyone onboard. However, as the usage expands, the need for safety measures has become evident. They have a myriad of uses ranging from commercial applications, such as pest control, to governmental infrastructure inspections. As the usage of unmanned aircraft systems expands, it is increasingly important to raise awareness about the need for safety of these systems. For instance, drones could cause collisions with other aircraft resulting in damages and loss of life. This bill is brought about to address and fill the knowledge gap of the public. C-UAS technology and strategies used to counter the harm the unmanned aircrafts could bring particularly when in the hands of threatening organizations and organized crime members. As an example, the Department of Homeland Security' s Science and Technology Directorate has begun developing a C-UAS toolkit of computer systems, plans, and databases to deal with improper usage of drones. The Department of Homeland Security has also begun testing strategies sometimes employed by the military to combat the improper usage of drones. Despite these advances, however, the need to review the current standards and processes when utilizing C-UAS has become evident as no framework exists across agencies. 

The Science

Science Synopsis

Currently, the Department of Homeland security has set up a system called C-SMART which is a combination of computer software and databases that enable uses with the ability to analyze and conduct specific operations to target unmanned aircraft. The database is still under construction and will need to be more detailed to be helpful. The database will also include information about potential future threats as technology advances and will streamline the process of evaluating new aircraft models.


The Debate

Scientific Controversies / Uncertainties

The increase in prevalence of the counter-UAS systems through this bill would cause a concern for privacy issues. The military has also conceived of the threat UAS could have on all populations, both civilian and military. Because of this, they have introduced meticulous measures to target them since UAS could be used by anyone. Increased surveillance could be placed on all drones and hence could hinder privacy for UAS owners. UAS hobbyists might not be able to properly enjoy the freedom they had had before with regards to how they use the aircraft. The military might also intervene more often than not since they have identified UAS as one of emerging threats.

Endorsements & Opposition

Endorsements:

Senator Catherine Cortez Masto (D-NV), press release, October 03, 2018: “The final FAA package is a  victory for Nevada and will strengthen the state’s leadership in  innovation and technology. I introduced multiple provisions that will increase safety and encourage the continued development of drone technology; make Nevada’s airports greener and more efficient; and improve Americans’ experience when they fly.”

Opposition:

As of yet, there has been no stated opposition to this bill.

Potential Impacts

The implementation of the Bill could help UAS owners understand how to fly responsibly and safely. The call for standardization of C-UAS activities would ensure that all the agencies involved will be on the same page on how to counter dangerous UAS. All in all, the bill will create a safer environment in which UAS could be flown and if a threatening event were to arise, all stakeholders know how to counter the threat.  

The UK’s Civil Aviation Authority had also made a similar assessment of the situation of drones and that although they are hopeful of the benefits drones could bring, they also would want people to exercise caution when using them. This development would keep all the stakeholders on the same page as to how to react when such a nefarious use or even a more likely scenario of collision of drones occurs and promote awareness in the public about drone safety.