CES 2020: Citing "mystery drones," US Transportation Secretary advocates new rules

The mysterious drones flying over Colorado and Nebraska offer a "timely illustration" of why drones should be equipped with remote IDs, the administration official said.
Written by Stephanie Condon, Senior Writer

As part of its efforts to safely integrate drones into US air space, the Federal Aviation Administration last month proposed a new rule that would require Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS) to be identifiable remotely. To understand why such a rule is needed, one only has to look to the sky in Colorado and Nebraska, where "mystery drones" have been flying in formation at night, US Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao said Wednesday. 

The "mystery drones," she said at CES 2020, are "certainly a timely illustration of why remote IDs are needed."

Since mid-December, residents in several counties across Colorado and Nebraska have spotted large drones, with estimated wingspans of six feet, flying in formation at night. According to reports, there are typically around six to 10 drones flying together at once. 

The identity of the drone operators has left local, state and federal officials all stumped. The FAA earlier in the week announced a new task force that will investigate the drone sightings. The formation of the task force follows a closed-door meeting in Colorado, attended by more than 70 officials from agencies including the FAA and FBI, as well as local law enforcement. 

The new rule proposed by the FAA could help solve these kinds of mystery sightings. Once drones were equipped with the required identification technologies, the FAA, law enforcement, and federal security agencies could identify drones flying within their respective jurisdictions. The proposed rule would apply to all drones over half a pound that are required to be registered with the FAA. 

The new rule could also help the government catch up with a burgeoning new commercial industry. There are already 1.5 million drones and more than 160,000 drone pilots registered with the FAA. 

Remote IDs, Chao said, "will help lay the foundation for the safe deployment of more complex drone operations," such as drone flights that go beyond the pilot's line of sight. 

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