Three drone sightings in recent days by commercial pilots approaching Kennedy Airport through Nassau County airspace should motivate federal agencies to strengthen their regulations of the unmanned aircraft, Sen. Charles Schumer said Sunday.
The Federal Aviation Administration and the Office of Management and Budget must speed up the release of a rule on drone use in light of the "near-misses" and because safety and privacy are at risk with the rising popularity of drones, Schumer (D-N.Y.) said.
"You know that when pilots can easily see drones in their airspace, it's a huge problem," he said at a news conference at his midtown Manhattan offices. "We need drone rules on the book, and we need them now."
Since Nov. 16, a JetBlue pilot reported spotting a drone about 2 miles from Kennedy Airport's Runway 31R and a Virgin Atlantic pilot and Delta Air Lines pilot reported an apparent drone about 10 miles from Runway 22L. The Delta pilot said the drone came within feet of the plane's left wing. All three planes landed safely.
Schumer called on the FAA to expedite its rule-making process and the OMB to quickly finish its review of the rule. Congress told the FAA to create the regulations in 2012, he said.
The FAA said Sunday it expects to release a proposed rule for public comment by the end of the year.
Drones typically are too small to appear on conventional airplane radars, Schumer said. They can be put to good use, but must not be flown near airport airspace, he said.
The FAA must distinguish between hobby and commercial drones to help clarify when, where and how the devices can be used, Schumer said.
"When the Wild West persists unchecked, someone eventually gets hurt," he said.
The FAA Modernization and Reform Act was passed in 2012, with Congress asking the FAA to issue a plan for the safe integration of drones by September 2015. The FAA also gave itself a deadline to release the rule by the end of this year, Schumer's office said.
The OMB did not respond to a request for comment.
The FAA bans small drones from flying higher than 400 feet or close to airports and populated areas. It also prohibits any use that endangers national airspace.
The agency in May proposed a $2,200 fine against a man who crashed his drone after flying it around midtown, almost hitting a pedestrian. In July, an NYPD helicopter came close to colliding with a drone near the George Washington Bridge.