The Federal Aviation Administration said pilot sightings of drones have grown at an alarming rate this year, endangering commercial aircraft and interfering with firefighting operations.
In 2014, 238 drones were spotted by pilots. So far this year, more than 650 incidents have been logged.
In June 2014, 16 drones were spotted in midair. In June of this year, there were 138 incidents up to 100,000 feet, the FAA said.
The agency said it “wants to send out a clear message that operating 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 drone lobby, the Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International, kicked the ball back toward the government. “The proliferation of irresponsible UAS flights underscores the need for the FAA to finalize its small UAS rules and more aggressively enforce existing regulations,” AUVSI president Brian Wynne said today.
“AUVSI supports stricter enforcement of careless and reckless operators and those who violate restricted airspace. Stricter enforcement will not only punish irresponsible operators, it will also serve as a deterrent to others who may misuse the technology. The FAA currently has the authority to levy hefty civil penalties,” Wynne said.
“Meanwhile, the FAA needs to finalize its small UAS rules, which would require all UAS operators to follow the safety programming of a community-based organization or abide by new UAS rules for commercial operators. Once the rules are finalized, consumers will no longer be able to fly without any oversight or education.”
Dave Mathewson, executive director of the Academy of Model Aeronautics, said “the increase in sightings of unmanned aircraft highlight the need for stricter enforcement of existing federal regulations and for the FAA to finalize its small UAS rules.
“Whether flying a commercial UAS or a model aircraft, there are rules that prohibit careless and reckless operations. We support the FAA taking a more aggressive approach to assessing civil penalties against operators violating those rules,” Mathewson said, adding “for nearly 80 years, our members have safely operated model aircraft through community-based safety guidelines — our more than 176,000 members know where to fly and where not to fly.”
The industry groups and FAA have been working together on the Know Before You Fly campaign to educate drone operators about responsible use.
In just one of the firefighting incidents last month, a drone with a 3-to-4-foot wingspan flew at 12,000 feet between U.S. Forest Service air tankers fighting a blazer in California’s San Bernardino County, forcing the pilots to terminate their mission of dropping fire retardant on the flames.
Officials also spotted a second drone hovering at 700 feet. The altitude restriction is 400 feet.
The FAA said it’s “working closely with the law enforcement community to identify and investigate unauthorized unmanned aircraft operations.”
“The FAA has levied civil penalties for a number of unauthorized flights in various parts of the country, and has dozens of open enforcement cases. The FAA encourages the public to report unauthorized drone operations to local law enforcement and to help discourage this dangerous, illegal activity.”