A reported close call between a model airplane and two airliners at Port Columbus last week raised concerns in several circles and illustrates how technology has outpaced regulation of such remote-control aircraft.
Under new guidelines released by the Federal Aviation Administration in December, such remote-control aircraft are subject to the same regulations as drones — but those rules are still unknown or confusing to many.
In last week's case, Eric Snyder was operating the plane at about 11 p.m. at the Brentnell Community Recreation Center, near his home and just across I-670 from Port Columbus. He told a local TV news crew that his plane was not close to the airliners and was visible because of its bright lights.
But under the FAA's rules for Unmanned Aircraft Systems, known as UAS in the industry, it is forbidden to fly a remote-control aircraft within five miles of an airport unless the airport and control tower have been notified. In Columbus, this could mean that a child playing with a $70 toy drone in his backyard in Bexley might be considered to be violating the law.
Other restrictions on recreational UAS vehicles include a prohibition on flying over 400 feet and a requirement that the craft must be kept in the operator's line of sight. Owners also are supposed to register any UAS that weighs more than 0.55 pounds with the FAA before flying the craft outdoors. According to the FAA's website, those who don't register "could face civil and criminal penalties."
Reports of UAS sightings from pilots, law enforcement and the public have increased during the past two years, according to the FAA's website. The agency says it now receives more than 100 such reports per month. One estimate put the number of drones purchased by U.S. hobbyists last year alone at 700,000.
That doesn't include drones used for business and governmental purposes, which also are increasing exponentially. The FAA just launched an online registry this month for those types of vehicles.
Last week's incident was of particular concern because it involved what was classified as a "near miss" with commercial jets. A similar incident involving a drone near New York's John F. Kennedy airport in August received widespread attention. In both cases, pilots did not have to take evasive action, and there were no injuries.
However, the fear is that a model aircraft or drone could get sucked into a jet engine, causing it to fail, as has happened with bird strikes, or lead to injuries if a pilot has to make a sudden move to avoid a collision. Drones also could pose a deadly risk if used by terrorists, one not addressed by the billions of dollars invested in improving airport security in recent years.
The aviation industry and regulators are scrambling to keep up.
Rod Borden, chief operating officer of the Columbus Regional Airport Authority, is a member of a UAS working group that's part of the American Association of Airport Executives. UAS incursions are "getting talked about a lot. It's a concern." The FAA is co-hosting its latest UAS symposium in conjunction with Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University in Daytona Beach, Fla. this month.
An initiative launched by airport executives and drone makers will soon be tested at more than 50 U.S. airports, the Washington Post reported last week. That will allow airports to keep tabs on drones after operators digitally input information about their flight plans to be sent directly to airport operations staff and control towers.
But not all unmanned aircraft have the onboard electronics to support this Digital Notice and Awareness System, Borden said.
He said he is hopeful that solutions will come, but said it will take federal legislation and awareness and cooperation of local law enforcement and the public.
People wishing to register drones and the like may do so at: www.faa.gov/uas/registration.
Original article can be found here: http://www.dispatch.com