Pilot encounters with drones are on pace to at least quadruple to more than 1,000 this year. Obviously, unmanned aircraft is a growing threat to U.S. aviation. There were 650 cases reported to the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) through Aug. 9, compared with 238 in 2014, the agency reported last month. Assuming the reports continue at the current rate, there would be more than four times the safety incidents by the end of this year. The reports of drones spotted near traditional aircraft come from pilots on private planes and helicopters, as well as crews aboard airliners, according to a release from the FAA. It should be noted that FAA rules currently prohibit drones from flying near airports or at altitudes where piloted aircraft operate.

Regulators are concerned that a collision between a drone and a plane, which could easily occur at a speed of 200 miles (320 kilometers) an hour or more, may damage an aircraft or its engines. Encounters with drones can also cause pilots to be distracted from other critical tasks. Industry groups estimate that as many as 500,000 drones have been sold in the U.S., many of which are capable of flying thousands of feet above the ground. Some of those are likely to be in the hands of some folks who shouldn’t have them.

Drones have been spotted recently by airline pilots near airports in Newark, N.J.; New York, and Minneapolis, according to the FAA. There were reports of about a dozen cases of drones flying near aircraft attempting to fight wildfires in California, forcing groundings and delays in battling the blazes. Lynnette Round, a spokeswoman for the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection, made this report known. In July, pilots reported 137 incidents compared with 36 for the same month in 2014. There were 138 such cases in June.

FAA enforcement cases against drone operators haven’t risen along with the incident totals. The agency has settled five civil cases involving unmanned flights that violated regulations, according to FAA data. One involved a Swiss citizen who flew over the University of Virginia campus filming a promotional video. The increase in incidents comes even though the FAA and the drone industry has tried to educate users about safety. The group, called Know Before You Fly, has a website with guidance on how to operate drones. I believe it will take much more than a website to head off a most serious safety hazard created by drones.

Source: Claims Journal

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