It was reported recently that a drone flew within 200 feet of a Lufthansa jet near Los Angeles International Airport. This is a recent encounter between an aircraft and the increasing population of unmanned flyers. Ian Gregor, spokesman for Federal Aviation Administration said that the pilot of the Lufthansa A380 passenger plane which was approaching the airport reported that a drone flew overhead the plane at about 1:30pm. The plane was flying at 5000 feet over densely populated suburbs of Los Angeles, about 14 miles east of the airport. Despite the encounter with the drone, the plane landed safely. A message to Lufthansa Airlines to confirm the incident was not immediately replied.
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The Air Support Division of Los Angeles Police Department was alerted and a search was conducted for the drone and its user. However, immediate information was not obtained about the drone pilot or where the drone landed. A California Democrat, Senator Dianne Feinstein, who introduced legislation, last year which requires the FAA to regulate the use of drones and to ensure that safety measures such as collision avoidance software are incorporated in these devices issued a statement on the recent close encounter with a drone. “This is one more incident that could have brought down an airliner and it is completely unacceptable. A near miss of 200 feet should serve as a stark reminder of the dangers posed by reckless drone use”, she said.
Though no confirmed collision has been reported, a report released last year by Bard College’s Centre for the Study of Drone in New York identified at least 241 reports of close encounters between drones and manned aircraft. Collision was averted in 28 cases of these encounters as the pilots veered out of the path of the drones. However, 90 of these close encounters with drones involved commercial jets.
The study examined incidents over a period of 21 months and found out that most of these encounters with drones occur within 5miles of an airport and at altitudes higher than 400feet.
Drones have grounded fire fighting aircrafts in California and interrupted the patrol of law enforcement helicopters. A man gave up his $6000 drone system last year and promised not to fly a drone for three years after the craft flew into the path of a police helicopter during a Hollywood manhunt. A 3-pound drone veered into the path of a California Highway Patrol helicopter in December, forcing the pilot to make a sharp turn.
With the boom in sales of drones, such encounters will increase. The Consumer Technology Association has estimated that 2.8 million drones will be sold in the U.S this year which amounts to 149 percent increase from the previous year. Moreover, the FAA announced last month that there are now more registered drone operators in the U.S (325,000) than there are registered manned aircraft pilots (320,000).
To avert close encounters with drones, more emphasis should be made on proper training of drone operators and on safety measures incorporated in these devices. Use of geofencing systems will help reduce reckless flying of drones as these crafts will be restricted from straying into airport perimeters and other ‘no fly zones’.