(Source: Washington Post)
Federal lawmakers on Wednesday questioned whether the Federal Aviation Administration is able to cope with an influx of small, cheap drones that are endangering air traffic, saying the agency was moving too slowly to adopt safety regulations.
Citing recent reports of near-collisions between handheld drones and passenger planes, members of a House Transportation Committee panel said they were alarmed that aviation standards have not kept up with rapid technological advances that are fueling a boom in consumer drone sales.
“I’ve got a quadcopter on my Christmas list, as I suspect many people do,” said Rep. Blake Farenthold (R-Tex). But with an estimated half-million small drones sold in the U.S. over the past three years, he said he was worried the FAA was losing a battle to protect the national airspace. “We’re really going to have a dangerous situation,” he said.
Rep. Elizabeth Esty (D-Conn.) said she recently attended a charity event where a drone buzzed overhead. “I don’t think we can rely on the hobbyists here” to adhere to strict safety standards, she said. “All it’s going to take is one horrific accident.”
Pilots have reported a sharp increase in risky encounters with drones, including close calls at the nation’s busiest airports, according to FAA data released last month. Since June 1, commercial airlines and private pilots have alerted the FAA to at least 25 episodes in which hard-to-see drones came within a few feet of crashing into much larger aircraft.
Pilots described most of the rogue drones as small, camera-equipped models that have become increasingly popular with hobbyists and photographers. Although such drones generally weigh only a few pounds, aviation safety experts say they could easily trigger an accident by striking another plane’s propeller or getting sucked into a jet engine.
The FAA allows recreational drone flights as long as operators keep them below 400 feet and five miles away from an airport. But those guidelines are being widely flouted by drone enthusiasts, and the FAA has struggled to enforce the rules.
Alan is serial entrepreneur, active angel investor, and a drone enthusiast. He co-founded DRONELIFE.com to address the emerging commercial market for drones and drone technology. Prior to DRONELIFE.com, Alan co-founded Where.com, ThinkingScreen Media, and Nurse.com. Recently, Alan has co-founded Crowditz.com, a leader in Equity Crowdfunding Data, Analytics, and Insights. Alan can be reached at alan(at)dronelife.com