Sen. Charles Schumer wants to force drone makers to install geofencing software that would prevent the unmanned aircraft from flying near airports and major events like the U.S. Open, where a high school science teacher allegedly crashed one last week. Schumer plans to tack the requirement onto to a bill funding the Federal Aviation Administration, the Daily News reports. The software uses GPS to track drones and prevent them from traveling into restricted airspace. Federal rules prohibit flying the contraptions within five miles of an airport or above 400 feet, and the FAA regularly announces event-specific restrictions for major sporting events and political functions.
"Our airspace in and around New York City is becoming the Wild West for drones," Schumer said. Indeed, from the beginning of the year until late August, the FAA logged 64 reports of drones where they shouldn't be in New York City, including one that came within 100 feet of a plane landing near JFK on July 31st, plus eight in Newark.
DJI, the Chinese maker of the popular Phantom drone, was already moving to block flights near airports when a drunk guy crashed his Phantom on the White House lawn back in January. Subsequently, the company made the whole city and beyond off limits for hobbyists. 3DR makes Solo drones that also have geofencing software. The website noflyzone.org allows people to request drones stay away from specific airspace, like a kind of aerospace do-not-call list, but company buy-in is incomplete so far. There are other problems with relying on companies to self-police their users, and with the software requirement itself.
Permanent restricted areas such as national parks have yet to be added to DJI's list of no fly zones, and temporary ones don't seem to be accounted for at all. Older models don't have geofencing software, and users can avoid the restrictions by refraining from upgrading, buying cheaper models that don't have it, or, presumably, hacking. But for now they don't necessarily need to go to even that level of trouble: 3DR's own website instructs users on how to bypass geofencing by changing drone settings, and according to aficionado Saxon Eldridge, "with DJI [drones], one can go into the settings and change the range and altitude at will."
A rough map of permanent restricted airspace in the U.S. is here.
The FAA's draft drone rules, released in February, prohibit use by people younger than 17, speeds more than 100 milers per hour, flying above 500 feet, and flying at night.