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FAA report shows spike in drone-related air traffic incidents

Mariella Moon, @mariella_moon
November 27, 2014
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There's a reason why unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) aren't permitted to fly beyond 400 feet and within a five-mile radius from airports: they could cause a disaster if they smash a plane's windshield or get sucked into its engine. Unfortunately, some drone operators don't follow protocol, and their numbers have only increased since June 1st this year. According to a document that the FAA has just released, pilots and air traffic controllers have reported 175 incidents in which a drone was seen flying in restricted airspace since mid-2014. Out of those 175 incidents, 25 describe drones almost colliding with either a plane or a helicopter.

A UAV with a four-foot wingspan, for instance, flew dangerously close (within 50 feet) to a US Airways flight out of Reagan National Airport on July 29th. Then on November 19th, another one flew straight at a rescue helicopter while it was starting to descend at 2,400 feet, that the pilots had no choice but to swerve to avoid it. These are merely two of the many reports in the FAA's list (downloadable as a spreadsheet, courtesy of The New York Times), which it released after numerous requests by various media outlets.

The agency is working on a complete set of rules to be able to integrate drones safely into the country's air traffic system, but that could take a few more years to finish. For now, some manufacturers, such as the creators of Phantom drone, are taking things into their own hands, programming their products to never fly near airports or above 400 feet. Not every company places restrictions on their products, though, and there's been a huge demand for drones recently. That's why an Association of Air Medical Services spokesperson told The Washington Post that he's hoping (as are other pilots, we're sure) a solution can be found before a catastrophe occurs.

In this article: airplane, drones, faa, UAV
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