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Droning On About Unmanned Aerial Vehicles

Posted by bvalaw on June 1, 2014

It isn’t just passenger planes missing one another.

According to the Federal Aviation Administration (“FAA”), a pilot of a U.S. Airways flight recently reported a near mid-air collision with an unmanned aircraft, also known as a drone. Over a year ago, in March 2013, a commercial jet approaching JFK in New York reported a drone within 200 feet. The FBI is reportedly still investigating the incident near JFK.

These near misses highlight the risk of increasingly crowded skies. Think of the consequences if a drone were sucked into the engine of a large commercial airliner. The results could be disastrous. The potential applications for commercial drones, however, have grown steadily in recent years ranging from pizza delivery to ranch management. But, unregulated access to commercial airspace is neither desirable nor acceptable to the FAA.

The FAA attempted to ban the use of commercial drones in the continental United States. In March 2014, however, an administrative law judge ruled that the FAA lacked clear- cut authority to do so. Clearly it’s a complex issue, but it’s one that requires immediate attention.

Collision avoidance systems – like the one that prevented the mid-air collision of two passenger jets over the Pacific near Hawaii – only detect other aircraft with certain transponders, something drones don’t have. Formal FAA regulations surrounding the use of them are purportedly being developed. Those regulations are, by law, to be ready by September 2015. Until then though, commercial use of drones over U.S. airspace is largely an unanswered question.