The FAA announced today mandatory registration requirements for all operators of UAS(unmanned aerial systems) more commonly known in the media as drones. As an airplane pilot this is music to my ears since undereducated enthusiasts have caused numerous dangerous incidents over the last few years. Flying an airplane or helicopter near an urban area today carries a very real threat of a near miss or worse yet a mid air collision - which has the potential for catastrophe in any aircraft, large or small.
As an aviator and a citizen I'm not sure this new rule will change anything, registration under the new rule occurs after the device is purchased which means that registration is for all intents and purposes voluntary. Since enforcement will be near impossible, people interested in breaking the law will continue to do so at their leisure.
With the threat of organized and lone-wolf radical islamic terrorism on the rise globally it makes perfect sense to me that we will see a marked uptick in weaponized toys. Some 'camera' platforms are able to easily carry payloads in excess of 15 pounds, the threat of these being used to carry high explosive or electronic warfare payloads is considerable. Moreover, there is increasing concern within the aviation community that a simple payload of dense metal, e.g. a fist sized cube of steel, could easily bring down a passenger airliner; all the willing drone operator would need is to fly their craft into the turbofan of a jet during climbout immediately following takeoff. Remember 'The Mircale on the Hudson'? Capt. Sullenberger's airplane was brought down by geese! Worst of all, the perpetrator is far from the scene of the crime.
"Lt. Col. (Ret.) Mitchell [last name withheld], former Chief of MQ-1 Training for a USAF Special Operations Squadron agrees, “It is a very naive approach not to worry about non-weaponized drones . . . you can put a small amount of chemical in a[n] . . . RC [remote controlled] plane, [find] coordinates with an iPhone GPS, then 24-hours later, launch an RPA [Remotely Piloted Aircraft]from the parking lot into a full stadium using those coordinates.” This scenario provides a glimpse of what might be possible and, in fact, was already tried. In April of 2014, the FBI foiled a terror plot involving an attack that would use toy planes loaded with explosives against a school and a Connecticut Federal Building."
Moving forward, the registration rule is an important policy step in acknowledging that we have a major and unpredictable security risk on our hands. With that acknowledgement comes the opportunity for future direct action against the threat.
The best way to secure our nations airspace at this point is not through registrationbut through active deterrence. That's right, jam them, hack them, and spoof them. Global militaries have had this capability for years so why have we been so far behind the eight ball when toys are the threat? Let's put this technology to work at an appropriate scale against the frequencies used by drones. That appropriate scale might be a 5 mile ring around tower controlled airports. Within that space you would be well within your right to own an unmaned aircraft but good luck flying one when it can't communicate with the handheld transmitter. A simple solution like this is sure to put some people off, but it's worlds safer than the alternative when the flying public has to shoulder the question of whether getting on an airplane is the safest form of travel.
-"July 17, 2015: A fire began in California near Interstate 15, a highway that runs between Los Angeles and Las Vegas. Due to hot, 40 mile per hour winds, the fire spread at a rapid pace. The Air Attack Officer, upon arrival, observed small unmanned aircraft activity operating contrary to a temporary flight restriction in the area. This resulted in aircraft being removed from the area for a period of twenty minutes. The delay of 20 minutes in aircraft response was critical in the growth of the fire. With the heavy aviation response on the scene of the fire, Air Attack Officers estimate this fire could have been stopped at less than 100 acres if the small unmanned aircraft had not interfered by penetrating the airspace. A total of eighteen vehicles and two trucks were destroyed by fire."
-"October 26, 2015: An unmanned aircraft flew into primary conductors bringing down one span of power line in West Hollywood, California. The incident report from Southern California Edison indicates that initially 640 customers were impacted."