The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) projects the sale of unmanned aerial systems (UAS) to dramatically increase over the next few years, with the sale of hobbyist UAS alone to reach 4.3 million in 2020. Consequently, the safe and effective integration of drones into national airspace has been one of the FAA’s top priorities.
However, the increasing number of drone sightings, particularly near aircraft and airports, has spurred significant public safety concerns.
A recent FAA report covering pilot, air traffic controller, and citizen encounters with UAS, revealed nearly 600 interactions with UAS between August 22, 2015 and January 31, 2016.
Some of the most notable instances include reports by Delta and JetBlue in August 2015 of serious near-misses with drones at John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York. In another case, a medical helicopter in St. Louis, Mo. swerved in order to avoid a collision with a drone less than 100 feet away. Fortunately, there were no passengers on board at the time.
In September 2015, the pilot of an American Airlines flight from Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport to Charlotte, NC had to take evasive action to avoid collision with a drone. The pilot reportedly “just missed” the drone.
Just weeks ago, the pilot of a Lufthansa airliner reported a close encounter with a drone while approaching Los Angeles International Airport. Commenting on the incident, Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) said the situation was “completely unacceptable.”
In response, the FAA has launched a number of initiatives to help safely integrate drones into national airspace. In August 2015, the FAA rolled out a new app—B4UFLY— to keep drone users informed on where it is safe and legal to operate. The app is available for iOS and Android smartphones, and can be downloaded for free from iTunes and Google Play.
The app complements the FAA’s education campaign, “Know Before You Fly,” which provides UAS operators with the information and guidance they need to fly safely and responsibly.
To further rein in drone misuse and reduce near misses with aircraft, the FAA in December announced new regulations requiring small UAS registration. The controversial regulations mandate that all aircraft weighing more than 0.55 pounds (250 grams) and less than 55 pounds (approx. 25 kilograms), including payloads such as on-board cameras, must be registered.
More than 406,000 people have registered since the registry went live in late December.
“We have a number of educational initiatives with our government and industry partners to teach drone operators how to fly safely, FAA Administrator Michael Huerta said in a statement. “But enforcement goes hand-in-hand with education, and we will take action against anyone who operates irresponsibly to the full extent of the law.”