FAA Warns Of Increased Drone Sightings

Meanwhile, hobbyist groups call on FAA for better rules

No Drone Zone Sign

No Drone Zone Sign

FAA

This afternoon, a helicopter serving as an aerial ambulance encountered a drone, and had to take evasive action to avoid it. The helicopter was flying at 1,000 feet, just two miles from Fresno Yosemite International airport, and the pilot reports that the drone was at the same altitude. Model aviation guidelines, published by the FAA, urge hobbyist drone pilots to operate at least 5 miles from airports, and never more than 400 feet above the ground. Despite its recommendations and awareness campaigns, earlier today the FAA released a statement saying that in 2015, helicopter and airplane pilots have already reported more than twice as many close calls with drones as they did in all of 2014.

From the FAA:

Pilot reports of unmanned aircraft have increased dramatically over the past year, from a total of 238 sightings in all of 2014, to more than 650 by August 9 of this year. The FAA wants to send out a clear message that operating drones around airplanes and helicopters is dangerous and illegal. Unauthorized operators may be subject to stiff fines and criminal charges, including possible jail time.

This year, 138 pilots reported seeing drones at altitudes of up to 10,000 feet during the month of June, and another 137 in July.

In conjunction with the release from the FAA, the Association for Unmanned Vehicles Systems International sent out a response, urging better rules for small drones, education campaigns, and stricter enforcement. From the AUVSI:

[T]he FAA needs to finalize its small UAS rules, which would require all UAS operators to follow the safety programming of a community-based organization or abide by new UAS rules for commercial operators. Once the rules are finalized, consumers will no longer be able to fly without any oversight or education.

Dave Mathewson, executive director of the Academy of Model Aeronautics, a major organization representing the interests of drone and remote control plane hobbyists, also released a statement, reinforcing the FAA’s overall message but also calling for better education of newfangled ‘drone’ pilots and clearer laws. From their statement:

[O]ne of the most immediate things the FAA can do to increase safety is to finalize its small UAS rules. ... For nearly 80 years, our members have safely operated model aircraft through community-based safety guidelines. Our more than 176,000 members know where to fly and where not to fly. Unfortunately, the same is not always true for the legions of new ‘drone’ flyers increasingly taking to the skies.

The AMA also called for more transparency in the FAA’s numbers, saying that “More detailed information [on ‘drone’ sightings] will enable UAS stakeholders to more precisely target their education and other efforts to enhance safety.”

Even as hobbyists and industry groups coordinate with the FAA to make sure that unmanned aviation is safe and fun for all in the sky, there are visible frustrations with a lack of clarity or progress on the rules that govern drones. The question isn’t whether people are going to keep flying drones; that seems pretty inevitable. The question is whether the law will be finalized in time to effect human behavior.