Will it take a plane crash that kills 200 people to lead to a crackdown against privately owned drones? Or are drones the new gun, with their use “personal freedom” no matter what the cost?
At 8:51 a.m., a white drone startled the pilot of a JetBlue flight, appearing off its left wing moments before it landed at Los Angeles International Airport. Five hours later, a quadcopter whizzed underneath an Allegiant Air flight as it approached the same runway. Elsewhere in California, pilots of light aircraft reported narrowly dodging drones in San Jose and La Verne.
In Washington, a Cessna pilot reported a drone cruising at 1,500 feet in highly restricted airspace over the nation’s capital, forcing the U.S. military to scramble fighter jets as a precaution. In Louisville, a silver-and-white drone almost collided with a training aircraft. In Chicago, United Airlines Flight 970 reported seeing a drone pass by at an altitude of 3,500 feet.
All told, 12 episodes were recorded Sunday of small drones interfering with airplanes or coming too close to airports, including other incidents in New Mexico, Texas, Illinois, Florida and North Carolina, according to previously undisclosed reports filed with the Federal Aviation Administration.
Before last year, close encounters with rogue drones were unheard of. But as a result of a sales boom, small, largely unregulated remote-control aircraft are clogging U.S. airspace, snarling air traffic and giving the FAA fits.
That was Sunday. It’s only a matter of time, and not a very long amount of time, before these private drones lead to a real tragedy. They are too big of a public safety hazard for people to own as toys, hazards that will only become more extreme as the technology improves. And while you could say that they should just be banned from areas around airports, remember that aircraft flies a lot of places and these drones could take a down a fire fighting plane or a news helicopter easily.
And in case anyone wants to hear a scary story, when I flew back to Austin after defending my dissertation, my plane struck a flock of geese. It was just like the Hudson except no river to land in. We made an emergency landing in Albuquerque. A couple of birds killed an engine and put a hole in the wing. It doesn’t take much at those speeds to kill people.