Close shaves between aircraft and drones are on the upswing

FAA data shows that pilots had to sometimes take evasive action

Parrot's AR.Drone 2.0 Credit: Image credit: Parrot

Near misses between drones and aircraft are on the increase, with pilots of airplanes sometimes having to take evasive action, according to data released by the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration to some news outlets.

Pilots and controllers have reported to the agency about 150 incidents this year of drones flying close to aircraft or airports, with a surge in such incidents in recent months, The Wall Street Journal reported Wednesday.

The disclosure by the FAA comes at a time when it is under pressure to allow drones, known in FAA jargon as unmanned aircraft systems, to be used for commercial purposes. Amazon.com, for example, has said it is testing the use of drones for package deliveries.

The use of UAS for commercial purposes is currently prohibited though the FAA has said it plans to allow commercial operations in low-risk, controlled environments. The use of model aircraft for recreational purposes is, however, permitted but with a number of restrictions.

The FAA in September exempted some aerial photo and video production companies to allow them to use drones.

FAA had previously disclosed a near-collision between a drone and a passenger aircraft in March over Tallahassee, Florida.

The incidents cited by the FAA on Wednesday include a report that a helicopter drone flew about 100 feet off the right side of the aircraft during takeoff at New Orleans by United Airlines Flight 315, an Airbus 319 headed for Houston, according to data published by The Washington Post

The pilot of a Piper Archer II reported in September a small red drone passing 50 to 100 feet away at an altitude of 3,000 feet (914 meters), while on descent to Portland International Airport. In another incident, US Airways Flight 5180, operated by regional carrier PSA Airlines, reported a drone passing 200 feet below the aircraft while three miles (4.8 kilometers) southeast of Norfolk International Airport.

FAA could not be immediately reached for comment.

New FAA rules expected by the end of this year are expected to require operators of commercial drones "to have a license and limit flights to daylight hours, below 400 feet and within sight of the person at the controls, The Wall Street Journal reported this week, citing people familiar with the rule-making process. The rules will be finalized after receiving feedback from the public, it said.

The FAA is required by U.S. Congress to frame a "safe integration" plan for the commercial use of UAS by Sept. 30, 2015.

The U.S. National Transportation Safety Board ruled this month in an appeal that drones are to be treated as aircraft for the purpose of the FAA's prohibition of their careless or reckless use.

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