FAA asks for surveillance help from LEOs and that request opens other important safety issues

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The UAS industry explosion poses many, many challenges to the FAA. Surveillance of all of the operations of these aircraft which can be launched by anyone from anywhere is realistically impossible. The FAA has issued a press release in which it “recognizes that state and local Law Enforcement Agencies (LEAs) are often in the best position to deter, detect, immediately investigate, and, as appropriate, pursue enforcement actions to stop unauthorized or unsafe UAS operations.” That’s a significant statement and the supporting guidance is incredibly detailed and complicated. Will this outreach effort result in expanding the FAA’s regulatory surveillance net?

First and foremost, the twelve page FAA guidance begins with pages of explanation of the UAS evolving rules. The average patrolman is not likely to take the time to commit to memory the FAA’s civil enforcement strictures. Even if they do, how likely will an LEO to be able to distinguish a UAS flying at 350’ or 500’? One of the information resources, with which the FAA requests law enforcement organizations should become familiar, are NOTAMs and this example is included:notam

NOTAMs are known to be obtuse among aviation experts; do we really think a busy policeman can find and understand the critical text? When is an UAS prohibited from flying over people and what circumstances permit such operations—just one example of the detailed knowledge required to be of real help to the FAA?

Second, the FAA’s rules are civil, not criminal. Police officers enforce criminal laws. Their priorities are skewed towards dangerous criminals. Maybe when a UAS crashes and injures citizens on the ground, law enforcement will respond. How unrealistic is it for a patrolman to intervene to prevent a civil rule violation?

Third, not insignificantly, many LEOs would like to use UASs for surveillance and the FAA’s rules deter or preclude that use. That preclusion from easy permission to use a tool which police departments want to use does not foster the inter-governmental cooperation which the FAA seeks in its press release.

In order for this outreach to become effective, a substantial dedication of FAA assets to train and support the Law Enforcement Organizations is a necessary predicate. It would be wise to create a special application for LEOs to use UASs. Maybe the FAA should require in order to get the operational authority that they include the FAA guidance in the police training programs?

The basic premise of the Press Release is that the FAA needs help for surveillance. Will the Administrator ask for more dollars for UAS inspectors? Should the FAA Reauthorization bill include UAS application fees to pay for the regulation of this new industry? Really important questions have been raised by this release and it will be interesting to see if/when/from whom the answers come!

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