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Drones causing issues, challenges for pilots

The use of drones -- or Unmanned Aircraft Systems -- has become increasingly popular in recent years as technology advances and pricing have made them more accessible to individuals.

These high-tech devices continue to evolve and have made it much easier for novices to fly the drones. But with that accessibility comes more challenges -- especially for pilots. More and more pilots -- commercial as well as private ones -- are reporting issues related to drones.

According to published reports, the federal government is getting almost daily complaints from pilots who say drones are flying too close to their aircraft or helicopter. In fact, most recently the Federal Aviation Administration admonished drone users about flying into disaster areas following Hurricanes Harvey, Irma and Maria. The FAA warned that only official drones were allowed in the areas so as not to impede the work of first responders.

Earlier this year, the FAA released an updated list of pilot, air traffic controller, law enforcement and citizen reports of potential encounters with drones and it shows a steady increase in the number of issues with drones.  

The FAA reports it hasn’t verified any collision between a civil aircraft and a civil drone yet. Every investigation has found the reported collisions were either birds, impact with other items such as wires and posts, or structural failure.

However, it is becoming such a challenging issue that the FAA has created pages on its website to address many issues associated with drones, including where they can be flown, understanding the basics of drone usage and tips to avoid interference with aircraft.

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“It really is becoming a much larger challenge,” said Mark Allen, who owns and flies several small planes. “I have even seen young kids flying drones without adult supervision. I don’t think people realize what a problem they can create. Drones have been around a long time and are very useful, but when they get in the hands of novices, problems arise.”

The FAA does require all drone operators to receive permission from the agency before you can fly your aircraft. Most permits limit drones to be at least five miles away from an aircraft. The FAA also requires the drone remain within sight of the operator. But, as evidenced by the growing number of reports, many inexperienced drone operators are not following protocols.

Safety guidelines and other useful resources related to drone operations can be found on the FAA website https://www.faa.gov/uas/

Below are some of the FAA safety guidelines

For those who are flying drones for hobby or recreation, you are strongly encouraged to follow safety guidelines, which include:

  • Fly at or below 400 feet and stay away from surrounding obstacles
  • Keep your UAS within sight
  • Never fly near other aircraft, especially near airports
  • Never fly over groups of people
  • Never fly over stadiums or sports events
  • Never fly near emergency response efforts such as fires
  • Never fly under the influence of drugs or alcohol
  • Understand airspace restrictions and requirements

Safely integrating drones into the national airspace system is a top priority of the FAA. In the right hands, drones are an essential tool for law enforcement, first responders and the news media, as well as professional photographers and videographers. Drones have proven in recent weeks to be very helpful in assessing damage from hurricanes.

Regulations, according to the FAA, promote safe, useful guidelines for operating drones. “We want to send a clear message that drones around airplanes and helicopters is dangerous and illegal. Unauthorized operators may be subject to stiff fines and criminal charges, including possible jail time,” the agency noted in a recent press release.

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