Hobbyist and commercial drone operations are exploding as different models enter the market. The FAA reports drone sightings to the tune of around 150 per month.
Drone expansion brings conflict with traditional manned aircraft. Drone operators have caused mid-air collisions, near-miss incidents, and other accidents, raising serious safety concerns. Any flight can be affected by a wayward drone -- in summer 2020, a drone narrowly missed Air Force One, which was carrying the President at the time.
A drone can take a dangerous chunk out of an airborne plane. At right is a video still of a drone-airplane wing collision by the University of Dayton Research Institute.
Risks to manned flight fall into three general categories: nefarious actors, inexperienced pilots, and off-nominal conditions. Nefarious actors wish to disrupt the air traffic system or crash a drone into a plane. Although most drone operators strive to act safely, their inexperience and existing off-nominal conditions are a continuous threat. New drone operators are unlikely to have the skill or knowledge to conform to regulations. Inevitable off-nominal conditions such as heavy winds or lost-link may cause drones to operate in unintended airspace.
To combat this proliferation of unsafe drone operation, pilots need a robust, system-wide alerting system to increase situational awareness of nearby drone activity.
The federal government is moving quickly to contain the proliferation of dangerous consumer drone activity in airspace. DHS is reviewing privately developed technologies that detect drones at a test site in North Dakota. In addition, the FAA and NASA are developing a joint national air-traffic-control system for low-flying drones. The initiatives respond to troubling reports of increasingly unsafe conditions -- for example, the finding that drone intrusions nearly tripled at Los Angeles International Airport from 2019 to 2020. Commercial pilots flying into and out of LAX have reported increased sightings of drones near their flight path -- 23 sightings so far this year alone. Read the Wall Street Journal article here.
A drone entered the Quarter Fire area near Cedar Ridge, California and grounded all aerial firefighting operations due to safety concerns. Read the Aerial Fire article here.
A drone entered a fighter jet's flight path at Vance Air Force Base in Oklahoma. The two craft flew within about 1000 feet of each other. The drone caused the interruption of training opportunities for nearly two hours. Read the article here.
A Flight for Life pilot working for St. Anthony’s Hospital in Lakewood, Colorado reportedly told a Denver television station that a drone passed under his helicopter. “A drone just went right under us, probably about 100 feet...What I care about the most is our survival, our ability to do the mission, and do it quickly and safely,” the pilot said. The same week, drones allegedly had been sighted over Sterling Regional MedCenter, raising fears that drones could endanger emergency medical helicopters in the hospital’s airspace. Read the Sterling Journal-Advocate article here.
A suspected drone hit a Los Angeles news helicopter at 1100 feet, damaging the aircraft and forcing an emergency landing. The object blew a hole through the tail of the helicopter. If the object was a drone, it was flying at nearly three times the legal height limit for federal airspace and Los Angeles airspace, both 400 feet. The CNN article mentioned the danger that drones can pose to unsuspecting aircraft and referenced the drone interference with aerial firefighting that occurred during the Maria Fire in California. Read the CNN Alert here.
Two drones entered the area of aerial firefighting of the Maria fire and an additional mountaintop fire in Santa Paula, California in early November, 2019. The drones caused the temporary cessation of the nighttime firefighting. Similarly, a drone interrupted the fighting of the 2015 Lake fire in California. That year, Cal Fire launched a public service campaign to inform drone operators: "If You Fly, We Can't." Read the full Los Angeles Times story here.
A drone delayed firefighting for 30 minutes, during a period of calm conditions considered ideal for firefighting, in Rifle, Colorado's Middle Mamm Creek fire in fall 2019. Read about it here in the Vail Daily.
A drone hit an airplane landing at a Quebec City airport, Jean Lesage International Airport. Read the full story here.
An Army UH-60 helicopter and a DJI Phantom 4 drone collided east of Staten Island, according to the National Transportation Safety Board. Read the full story here.
Footage taken by the drone's onboard camera shows a close call between the drone and the airplane. Read the full story here.
A British Airways aircraft carrying 132 passengers was preparing to land at Heathrow Airport when, according to the pilot, it collided with a drone. Read the full story here.
An Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University report on collision risk with drones is posted here. The report recommends the integration of Low Altitude Authorization and Notification Capability system usage data into aviation information sharing infrastructure to improve awareness of drone activity.
The controversial Federal Aviation Administration proposal would require the remote identification of unmanned aircraft systems. The Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association responded to the FAA proposal by stating that non-commercial drones should not be subject to Remote ID, that the proposal would impose undue costs upon drone operators, and that the public should not have access to a pilot's identity and flight locations.
Drone Traffic observes that, if implemented, and at best in several years, the requirement may capture the ideal “blue sky” operational environment, but will not handle the inevitable off-nominal conditions such as drone sensor failure, data-link failure, unintended flight path deviation, and malicious operations.
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