DRONES: NASA to work with British gov’t on low-flying drone tracking system

Sept. 17, 2015

Partnership with U.K. raises questions of why FAA is not involved in similar planning

In a statement made by the House of Lords this week, it was announced that the British government is partnering with the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) to establish drone tracking systems to ensure all hobbyist and commercial drones flying below 500 ft operate safely within shared airspace.

The collaboration, announced by Under Secretary of State for Transport, Lord Ahmad Tariq, stipulates that “the Government are in early discussions with NASA about the drone traffic management system […] It is hoped that those discussions will lead to a U.K. involvement in the development of that system and the participation of U.K. industry in future trials to test the robustness of the technology.”

The proposed partnership follows reports that NASA is likewise partnering with tech giants, such as Google and Amazon, to develop drone-control systems. The proposed system involves connecting drones to a cloud-based network, which would communicate real-time location and navigation information, as well as provide constant surveillance.

Privacy issues, which are at the heart of any discussion regarding drone use, were at stake in negotiating the partnership.

“It is a complicated legal minefield,” Tariq stated. “I do not know what one does if one finds a drone hovering a few feet above the ground in one’s garden, contrary to the CAA rules. Is it legal or illegal to knock it down or disable it? How does one know who owns it or who is flying the machine?”

A London court this week became the first in the U.K. to hand out drone-related charges for illegal flight in congested areas. A 42-year-old man was fined £1,800 for flying his video-recording drone above national landmarks, and is now barred from owning and flying drones, or helping drone enthusiasts for the next two years.

Whether any agreement between NASA and the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) is in the offing is a matter of speculation. The FAA has been working on a set of drone-sue guidelines for several years, but is not expected to vet a final set of rules for consideration until sometime next year.

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