Saturday, 10 January 2015

FAA issues law enforcement guidance for suspected unauthorized UAS operations

The US Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has issued Guidance for Law Enforcement Agencies (LEA), both state and federal, in relation to Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS) operations. The FAA suggests that LEAs are often in best position to detect, deter and enforce the FAA regulations on UAS operations. The guidance explains briefly the pertinent FAA rules and suggests methods for their enforcement by LEAs. The document serves interagency cooperation, underscoring that the FAA has only administrative authority, yet unauthorized UAS operations might also violate criminal rules under special circumstances.

The text of the Guidance is divided into two sections.

The first section explains briefly the regulatory framework for UAS operations, i.e. the FAA regulatory authority on UAS, that UAS are ‘aircraft’, the distinction between recreational and commercial operations of UAS and the requirements for each type of operations, as well as the need for compliance with US National Airspace System (NAS) security requirements, e.g. Notifications to Airmen (NOTAMs), Temporary Flight Restrictions (TFRs) and segregated airspace.

The second section outlines the role of the LEAs in enforcing the above rules. LEAs contribution is crucial to evidence collection, because they are much closer to the occurrence (accident/incident/suspected violation) and can act much faster. The assistance can have the form of, among others,
(a) witness identification and interviews,
(b) identification of suspected operators,
(c) viewing and recording the location of the occurrence to identify important parameters, for example weather and visibility conditions, the number and density of the people on the surface etc.,
(d) identification of sensitive locations, events, or activities, which are mainly related to airspace flight restrictions/prohibitions, for example presidential movements, nuclear power plants, military installations, major sport events etc.
(e) notification of the occurrence to the FAA Regional Operation Centers (ROCs)
(f) collection of evidence, like recordings from public and private security systems and identification of eventual UAS registrations numbers.

In its Guidance, the FAA emphasizes that work products intended for FAA use should involve conventional administrative measures, such as witness interviews, examination of suspected violators, consensual examination of vehicles and equipment, and other methods that do not involve court orders or the potential use of force by law enforcement personnel. However, the FAA does not discourage using other measures too, provided that there are suspicions of violation of criminal rules, independent from the FAA regulations.

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