The Federal Aviation Administration is cracking down on unauthorized drone flights. Earlier this week the body hit a commercial drone operator, SkyPan International, with a $1.9 million fine for illegal flights that took place over New York and Chicago. In order to monitor similar flights in the future, and to stop dangerous collisions between drones and aircraft, the administration has now signed an agreement to test technology that would help it find the operators of drones flying near airports.
The tech scans radar signals to track pilots
John Mengucci, president of the company providing the technology, said it "provides a proven way to passively detect, identify, and track" drone operators by monitoring the radio signals between drone and controller. As reports of pilots spotting drones increase — doubling between 2014 and the first eight months of 2015 alone — the FAA says finding and stopping unauthorized flights is increasingly difficult. "One of the biggest challenges we're having is locating the operator," FAA deputy administrator Michael Whitaker told the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee on Wednesday.
The FAA faces criticism for its achingly slow progress towards unified legislation for drone operators. The administration was instructed to enshrine laws for drone use this year, but after the governmental body proposed surprisingly generous preliminary rules for hobbyist drone pilots earlier this year, it missed a September deadline for the full regulations. The FAA has acknowledged its slow progress, but has warned that it may take until 2017 to finalize its drone regulations. Until then, drone pilots will need to err on the side of caution to avoid being spotted by this new technology and hit with hefty fines.