FAA: Pilots report record number of unmanned aircraft encounters

The Federal Aviation Administration this week said that a record number of drone sightings reported by airline pilots and others has increased dramatically this year -- from a total of 238 sightings in all of 2014, to more than 650 by August 9.

The FAA said pilots of a variety of different types of aircraft – including many large, commercial air carriers – reported spotting 16 unmanned aircraft in June of 2014, and 36 the following month. 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.

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 Its unclear whether the increase is due to just the sheer growing amounts of drones capable of flying that high or drown owners are just becoming more adventurous.   Either way, this activity seems like an accident just waiting to happen and the FAA warned that operating drones around commercial and private airplanes or helicopters is dangerous and illegal. Unauthorized operators may be subject to stiff fines and criminal charges, including possible jail time.

Small drone sightings have been on the bad side of the news recently as there have been at least 3 complaints about the diminutive aircraft flying near the flight path of JFK airport in New York. All three of the commercial flights landed safely but the events prompted New York Senator Charles Schumer to call for called for “tougher FAA rules on drones, as well as geofencing software that could prohibit a done to fly higher than 500 feet, and keep it two miles away from any airport or sensitive area,” according to local news station PIX11.

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The FAA noted that firefighters battling wildfire blazes in the western part of the country have been forced to ground their operations on several occasions for safety reasons when they spotted one or more unmanned aircraft in their immediate vicinity.

The FAA will continue to work closely with industry partners through the “Know Before You Fly” campaign to educate unmanned aircraft users about where they can operate within the rules. The FAA said it was also is working closely with the law enforcement community to identify and investigate unauthorized unmanned aircraft operations. The FAA has levied civil penalties for a number of unauthorized flights in various parts of the country, and has dozens of open enforcement cases.

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Michael Cooney

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