The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) is expanding its efforts to detect unmanned aircraft systems flying dangerously close to airports in the United States.

Following a sharp increase over the past two years in reports of small UAS flying close to airports, the FAA on Monday announced an expansion of the Pathfinder Program that is seeking technologies to detect and identify small UAS flying in proximity to manned aircraft around airports and airfields.

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The agency announced cooperative research and development agreements with sensor technology companies Gryphon Sensors, Liteye Systems Inc. and Sensofusion to evaluate systems for catching UAS in sensitive airspace.

“Sometimes people fly drones in an unsafe manner,” Marke Gibson, FAA senior adviser on UAS integration, said in a prepared statement. “Government and industry share responsibility for keeping the skies safe, and we’re pleased these three companies have taken on this important challenge.”

The FAA will evaluate procedures and technologies designed to identify unauthorized UAS operations in and around airports. The research effort addresses what the FAA considers one of the most significant challenges to safe integration of UAS into U.S. national airspace. 

The companies’ prototype UAS sensor detection systems will be evaluated at airports selected by the FAA. The agency and its federal government partners–particularly the Department of Homeland Security (DHS)–will work with the companies to study how effective their respective technologies are, while ensuring they do not interfere with the safety and security of normal airport operations. 

Recent agreements with Gryphon, Liteye and Sensofusion expand upon collaborative efforts with industry to develop system standards to identify unauthorized UAS flights near airports, which could pose a hazard to manned aircraft.

The FAA also has partnered with DHS and CACI International [CACI] on similar research to explore how that company’s prototype detection technology may help detect UAS.