The FAA Vs Drone: A Struggle To Control Air Traffic

Drones have been coming under fire from many sources, most recently from the FAA. A Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) official gave some specific examples of incidents involving drones during a speech at the Small Unmanned Systems Business Expo in San Francisco. The most alarming drone close-call happened just last March, when a commercial flight nearly hit a large drone five miles from an airport in Tallahassee, Florida. This was previously unreported, but now fearful flyers have another danger to add to their not-likely-but-still-possible list.

According to Jim Williams, the head of the FAA’s Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS) office, the pilot said that the object, aka drone, appeared to be small, camouflaged, “remotely piloted,” and about 2,300 feet up in the air at the time of the incident. “The pilot said that the UAS was so close to his jet that he was sure he had collided with it,” Williams reported. “Thankfully, inspection to the airliner after landing found no damage. But this may not always be the case.”

Air traffic and the FAA have enough to be concerned about when it comes to safety without adding drones into the mix. Even small birds can be dangerous to flights. Take, for example, the flight that crash landed in the Hudson River after striking a bird (or birds) while taking off from LaGuardia Airport. Imagine replacing the bird (or birds) with a large lithium powered battery and state of the art mechanics. Perhaps I am becoming too dramatic, but in a world with more and more drones at play, this is a concern that the FAA insists must be addressed.

“The FAA has the exclusive authority to regulate the airspace from the ground up, and a mandate to protect the safety of the American people in the air and on the ground,” the FAA said regarding drones. “…Our challenge is to integrate unmanned aircraft into the busiest, most complex airspace in the world. Introduction of unmanned aircraft into America’s airspace must take place incrementally and with the interest of safety first.”

The FAA recently lost a case in which they sued Raphael Pirker for his “careless and reckless” maneuvering of a small camera drone to take aerial video for an advertisement for the University of Virginia Medical Center. They intend to appeal.