A drone looks down on a Frontier Airlines jet approaching Las Vegas McCarran International Airport. (YouTube video)

Nab, Prosecute UAS Operator Who Zoomed in on Frontier Jet, Drone Industry Urges FAA

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Drone industry representatives encouraged the Federal Aviation Administration to throw the book at the pilot of an unmanned craft whose video posted online shows a dive toward a Frontier Airlines jet approaching McCarran International Airport in Las Vegas.

The FAA and the FBI are investigating the undated video, particularly in the wake of September’s collision of a quadcopter drone and a UH-60M Black Hawk helicopter over Staten Island that damaged a rotor and a door.

When the video surfaced last week, the Academy of Model Aeronautics condemned “the type of operation depicted in this video” and urged the FAA “to take strong enforcement action against this drone pilot, and against any future violators.”

“We continue to believe education and increased enforcement are effective ways to protect our nation’s airspace,” said AMA Public Relations and Government Affairs Director Chad Budreau.

On Monday, the Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International, the AMA and other groups representing the drone industry and operators sent a letter to FAA Acting Administrator Daniel K. Elwell noting that the actions shown in the McCarran video were not “just irresponsible and in clear violation of both the FAA’s Special Rule for Model Aircraft, 14 CFR, 101, Subpart E and Part 107 of the Federal Aviation Administration regulations, but it also endangered the airspace and created the real risk of a midair collision with a passenger jet.”

“This careless and reckless behavior endangers the safety of our airspace for all users – both manned and unmanned. We urge the FAA to use its full authority to investigate, identify, and apprehend the operator of this UAS flight and prosecute them to the fullest extent of the law,” wrote the drone coalition. “We also encourage the FAA to work with law enforcement in Las Vegas and Nevada to pursue all applicable charges within their authority.”

“Strict enforcement will not only punish the operator responsible for this unacceptable and reprehensible action, it will also serve as a deterrent to others for misusing UAS technology and create accountability among UAS operators,” they added. “Collaboratively, our organizations will continue to educate UAS operators about where they should and should not fly to help prevent similar incidents in the future. We will also continue to work closely with the FAA to develop and deploy remote identification and tracking to ensure our airspace remains safe and secure.”

Last month, AUVSI announced that it had formed a steering committee to launch its Trusted Operator Program. AUVSI president and CEO Brian Wynne cited “an urgent need to unify the remote pilot community and remote pilot training providers to facilitate a recognized guide for training protocols, best practices and conduct.”

“This will support reliability, safety, professionalism and trust in the UAS industry,” Wynne said. “The training protocols that are envisioned for the TOP will lead to many benefits, such as a commitment to safety, lower insurance premiums and helping advance regulations that permit expanded operations, including flying at night, over people, and beyond line of sight.”

Bridget Johnson is the Managing Editor for Homeland Security Today. A veteran journalist whose news articles and analyses have run in dozens of news outlets across the globe, Bridget first came to Washington to be online editor and a foreign policy writer at The Hill. Previously she was an editorial board member at the Rocky Mountain News and syndicated nation/world news columnist at the Los Angeles Daily News. Bridget is a Senior Fellow specializing in terrorism analysis at the Haym Salomon Center. She is a Senior Risk Analyst for Gate 15 and Washington Bureau Chief for PJ Media. She is an NPR on-air contributor and has contributed to USA Today, The Wall Street Journal, National Review Online, Politico, New York Daily News, The Jerusalem Post, The Hill, New York Observer, Washington Times, RealClearWorld and more, and has myriad television and radio credits including Al-Jazeera and SiriusXM.

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