Drone Safety Incidents Almost 1 Per Day in U.S., FAA reports

WASHINGTON (Bloomberg News) -
A drone hovers above an Atlanta street Tuesday, Nov. 25. (AP Photo/John Amis)
A drone hovers above an Atlanta street Tuesday, Nov. 25. (AP Photo/John Amis)

Civilian drones are flying so close to airplanes so frequently that the Federal Aviation Administration is receiving almost one incident report a day.

The FAA logged 193 cases of safety incidents involving unmanned aircraft from Feb. 22 through Nov. 11, according to data released by the agency today. The incidents include drones that got too close to traditional aircraft or to people at public events.

“The FAA currently receives about 25 reports per month from pilots who have seen unmanned aircraft or model aircraft operating near their aircraft,” the agency said in a statement.

In a few cases, pilots have had to take evasive action to avoid the drones, the agency said. The data offer a glimpse into the Wild West atmosphere the FAA is trying to bring order to as the affordability and availability of small, unmanned aircraft creates a new breed of drone operators who are unschooled in aviation safety.

The FAA’s legal authority to regulate civilian unmanned flights was upheld on Nov. 18 by the National Transportation Safety Board, overturning a decision by an administrative judge to throw out the agency’s first attempt to fine a drone operator.

The agency has been contacting drone operators, sometimes after being notified by U.S. and local law enforcement agencies, “to educate them about how they can operate safely under current regulations and laws,” the agency said.

While most of the cases of near mid-air collisions reported by the FAA involve smaller private aircraft, incidents involving airliners are also growing.

Purely recreational drone flights are permitted as long as operators stay away from traditional aircraft and get permission from controllers before taking off within 5 miles (8 kilometers) of an airport. Hobby groups, such as the Muncie, Indiana-based Academy of Model Aeronautics, suggest unmanned aircraft stay within 400 feet of the ground.