While drones are cleaning solar panels, delivering condoms, flying into tornados, and taking dramatic selfies, they’re also getting dangerously close to airplanes, helicopters, and airports, according to a report from the AP on Wednesday.
The AP, citing federal and industry officials, reports that the government is getting near-daily reports of close encounters between drones and airplanes and helicopters, as well as sightings of drones at airports. While many sightings are unconfirmed and could be birds, unnamed Federal Aviation Administration officials told the AP that reports of drones, sometimes up to three per day, appear credible.
The FAA regulates the use of drones, and all drone operators need authorization from the FAA to fly an unmanned aircraft. Even then, most drones cannot fly higher than 400 feet, must remain visible to the operator, and stay at least five miles away from airports, but many seem to ignore these rules. This is especially worrisome since air traffic controllers cannot see small drones on their radar, and if a drone were to collide with a plane or get sucked into the engine, it could cause a crash.
“It should not be a matter of luck that keeps an airplane and a drone apart,” Rory Kay, a training captain and former chair of the Air Line Pilots Association safety committee, told the AP. “So far we’ve been lucky because if these things are operating in the sky unregulated, unmonitored and uncontrolled, the possibility of a close proximity event or even a collision has to be of huge concern.”