We have written in past issues of the Report about the growing concern surrounding drones. Drones are unmanned aerial vehicles that can be controlled by someone operating it on the ground, or through a software-controlled flight plan that works in conjunction with GPS. Initially associated with military technology used for surveillance, drones have become more available and affordable for the general public. This poses a number of potential threats, from privacy breaches to more dangerous scenarios involving commercial air space.
The Guardian, the British news agency, reports airline pilots are calling for a clampdown on drones after four pilots reported “category A” incidents involving drones that posed a serious risk of collision. All four of the near-miss incidents occurred in a single month, last September. In two cases, the drone passed within 15 feet of the aircraft or closer.
In December, the UK Airprox Board, responsible for tracking incidents and measuring the threat of mid-air collisions, identified seven dangerous drone incidents, four of which were classified as serious. Reports of drone incidents increased from just six reported in 2014 to 30 in 2015.
The operators of the drones in the four serious near-misses were not identified. Operators are responsible for obeying rules outlined by the UK Civil Aviation Authority, which includes restrictions on operation in controlled airspace, not flying the devices higher than 400 feet, or in the vicinity of airports without notifying air traffic controllers.
In the United States, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) began requiring registration for owners of the small unmanned aircraft effective Dec. 21, 2015. Owners must register their aircraft before they can fly them outdoors. Operators who have already been flying drones before the new regulations took effect were required to register no later than Feb. 19, 2016.
Registration is required for drones weighing between 0.55 lbs. and 55 lbs. Online registration is currently available for operators who intend to use the vehicles strictly for recreational or hobby purposes The FAA intends to expand online registration to commercial operators by March 21. Online registration is available at www.faa.gov/uas/registration.
The FAA announced that nearly 300,000 drones were registered in the first 30 days after the FAA online registration system went live. Drones must be registered every three years and clearly marked with its registration number. The FAA hopes its system will not only help reduce the risk of collisions with other aircraft, but cut down on the number of other incidents that might threaten public safety or privacy by holding drone operators accountable for their actions. In a news release, US transportation secretary Anthony Foxx said: “The National Airspace System is a great resource and all users of it, including [unmanned aerial system] users, are responsible for keeping it safe.”
Sources: The Guardian and FAA.gov
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