There’s a relatively new danger to aviation which no air martial or pilot has any control over: drones. Since the start of the year there have been more than 650 close calls between airplanes and unmanned drones. Now the Federal Aviation Administration says this growing hazard needs to be stopped.
Andrea Ahles, an aviation reporter for the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, joins the Standard to discuss the drone trouble. According to her, the issue is only increasing.
“They’re looking at 650 reports by pilots by August 9 just of this year…. In all of 2014, there was a total of 238 sightings, so the numbers have more than doubled in only the first nine months of the year.
However, the average drone is not causing these troubles. The FAA only regulates airspace above a certain height, and it takes an advanced drone to reach it, Ahles says.
“[The FAA does not get involved in] hobbyists who are flying model aircrafts or various smaller drones that you can buy at Radio Shack… flying less than 400 feet in the air,” she says. “These [drones] that they’re talking about are ones that commercial pilots are reporting in and around near airports while they’re trying to land.”
For example, Ahles says, this past Sunday, four different airline crews reported seeing a drone near Newark Airport in New Jersey as they were landing. The drone was flying at a height between 2000 and 3000 feet. “This isn’t your average helicopter that you’ve gotten at Radio Shack,” she says.
The owners of these drones don’t have bad intentions, but their actions are still potentially harmful, Ahles says.
“Sometimes it’s just because they’re curious. Unfortunately, these are people that are hobbyists… You typically need a commercial license to be able to fly over 500 feet, but this is a new technology,” she says. “The FAA, when they put up these numbers on Thursday, they wanted to really send a clear message out: Operating drones around airplanes and helicopters, it’s dangerous, it’s illegal, and you can face a fine up to $25,000 and up to 20 years in jail if they catch who it is that’s actually operating the drone from the ground.”
While no aircraft engine has sucked up a drone yet, Ahles says it’s a very real possibility unless owners of the unmanned aircrafts begin to act more responsibly.
“It can actually be very dangerous for these large commercial aircrafts…. Could you imagine what would happen if a drone got sucked into an aircraft engine, with all those metal parts. It could cause some serious problems. And that’s why the FAA is taking this very seriously and trying to encourage people not to fly their drones around airports.”