FAA reports nearly 600 incidents of drone sightings, near misses

(Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)

Credit: Bruce Bennett

Credit: Bruce Bennett

The Federal Aviation Administration says in a five-month period they received nearly 600 reports of incidents in which unmanned aircraft systems – -- drones -- – came into close proximity of private and commercial aircraft over the United States.

According to a report released Friday, the FAA has been notified of drones flying alongside aircraft, drones launched at night and the devices being flown in front of planes and helicopters.

The reports have officials at the agency in charge of the safety of the air-traveling public concerned.

"We have a number of educational initiatives with our government and industry partners to teach drone operators how to fly safely, including the drone registry we launched last December," FAA Administrator Michael Huerta said in a statement. “

"But enforcement goes hand-in-hand with education, and we will take action against anyone who operates irresponsibly to the full extent of the law.”"

More than 406,000 people have signed-up since the registry was activated in December.

The FAA release covers incidents reported from Aug. 22, 2015 to Jan. 31, 2016. The agency says it is now averaging  more than 100 reports a month of interactions between drones and commercial and private planes coming from pilots, people on the ground and passengers.

Some of the incidents in the most recent report included:•

  • The pilot of a Southwest Airlines 737 reported a drone passing 100 feet below the plane as it descended to land at Baltimore-Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport.
  • In December 2015, a passenger on an American Airlines flight saw a drone flying alongside the plane.
  • The pilot of a private aircraft, heading to Charlottesville said a basketball-sized drone flew in front of the small plane.
  • On Jan. 17, a Jet Blue pilot taking off out of John F. Kennedy Airport in New York reported a near-miss collision with a drone at about 5,800 feet.
  • A medical helicopter leaving a children's hospital in St. Louis, Mo., had to swerve to avoid colliding with a drone that was fewer than 100 feet away.

The FAA considers a drone to be an unmanned aircraft either preprogrammed with a flight plan or remotely controlled by its operator. You may legally fly small drones – under 55 pounds -- at 400 feet or lower, as long as it is within the operator’s line of sight and you are at least 5 miles from an airport.

More stringent rules apply for the airports in and around the Washington D.C. area.

For current information on where unmanned aircraft can be flown safely, the FAA offers the B4UFLY app that is available for iOS and Android smartphones. The app is free and can be downloaded from iTunes and Google Play. Unauthorized operators may be subject to stiff fines and criminal charges, including possible jail time.

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