Close calls with unmanned aircraft increase

The number of close encounters between civilian aircraft and unmanned drones in national airspace is on the rise, the FAA reports.

Shutterstock image. Copyright: Ivan Cholakov
 

The number of close calls between commercial aircraft and unmanned aircraft almost doubled in the last six months compared to the same period last year, according to the latest Federal Aviation Administration report.Between February and September 2016, the FAA said reports of unmanned aerial system (UAS) sightings from pilots, citizens and law enforcement near airports reached 1,274. That compares to 874 such sightings during the same period in 2015.

Some of the reported encounters are alarming, with pilots reporting that UAS passed within feet of manned civilian aircraft at high altitudes.

One pilot of a small airplane flying out of Ontario, Calif., in September reported he took evasive action to avoid a six-foot diameter drone while flying at 4,500 feet, missing the big UAS by 10 feet. Another civilian pilot flying near Santa Monica, Cal. at 5,500 feet last July reported missing a smaller, two-foot-by-two-foot drone by 10 feet.

The Drone Manufacturers Alliance said the agency's new report shows drone aircraft are increasingly safe. In the year since the FAA opened up airspace for authorized commercial drones, the number of such aircraft has increased markedly, the organization said in a Feb. 23 statement. The rise in sightings, it said, increased at a lower rate. The group also noted that the FAA report "confirms that no drone has ever collided with a manned aircraft" and that some of the reports are of legitimate professional and personal drone flights, or misidentified objects.

Although the FAA report contains "several reports" of pilots claiming their aircraft actually collided with drones, the agency said it hadn't verified any collisions between a civilian aircraft and a civilian drone. It said investigations into those reports concluded that the collisions were with birds, wires, posts or structural failures and not drone-related.

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