75° Good Morning
75° Good Morning

Lack of regulations for drones invites tragedy

A model of a drone on display in

A model of a drone on display in Foley Square in New York in October 2014. Photo Credit: Getty Images / TIMOTHY A. CLARY

Not too long ago, the only drones anyone needed to worry about on a final approach to Kennedy Airport were the tireless chatterboxes who might be seated nearby.

No more. Today it's that other kind of drone -- officially known as an unmanned aircraft system -- that has pilots, politicians and Washington worried.

The military has used them for years in places like Afghanistan. But their popularity also has been growing fast among civilians at home -- from hobbyists to private investigators to photographers. Drug dealers sometimes use them for deliveries. Amazon is looking at their possibilities.

The result is a troubling surge of unmanned aircraft within some of the nation's most tightly packed corridors -- such as the airspace around metropolitan New York.

The Federal Aviation Administration has received reports describing 193 drone encounters since the beginning of the year -- including 12 in New York.

How urgent is the situation? Last month alone, three near-miss incidents were reported in airspace around JFK.

In one, a Delta pilot 10 miles out saw a drone flying way too close to his plane's left wing. In another, a drone was spotted within two miles of a heavily used JFK runway. And in another, a Virgin Atlantic pilot headed toward the airport spotted a drone at about 3,000 feet.

"When the Wild West persists unchecked," says Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.), "someone eventually gets hurt."

But if tighter regulations are a must, Washington seems to be moving forward with the speed of a lumbering blimp.

The FAA was supposed to draft regulations by August, but missed that deadline. Among the possibilities: A rule that drone operators must first have a pilot's license and experience flying manned aircraft, a rule restricting drones to daylight flights, and a rule restricting drones to an altitude of 400 feet.

Not surprisingly, a phalanx of industry organizations is pushing back hard against some of these ideas. But Washington needs to tame the Wild West before disaster strikes.


We're revamping our Comments section. Learn more and share your input.

Top News stories