FAA Reports Dramatic Increase in Unauthorized Drones Operating Near Aircraft and Airports

Client Alert

The FAA reported a substantial increase in the number of unauthorized drone sightings by pilots around and near U.S. airports and other locations. According to the FAA, there were 874 such sightings during the February-September 2015 time period; the number of reports increased to over 1200 for the same period in 2016.
Generally speaking, without special authorization, drones (whether flown for commercial purposes or by hobbyists) may not be flown over 400 feet above ground level or near airports or other aircraft. However, commercial, military and private pilots are reporting at a rate of over 100 instances per month that the rules are often ignored. Among the reported sightings are the following:

  • On August 8, 2016 a Boeing 737 pilot on final approach to San Juan reported a drone flying within 10-15 feet of the airliner;
  • On September 10, 2016 a Boeing 757 and an Airbus 320 landing at Miami reported a drone operating at 500 feet “in very close proximity” to the aircraft;
  • On September 10, 2016 a U.S. Air Force pilot flying a Boeing C-17 reported that a drone “passed just under their nose” slightly right of the aircraft as the C-17 was descending at 5000 feet;
  • On August 14, 2016, a Boeing 737 pilot flying at 6000 feet over Southern California reported a drone passing 20 to 100 feet above the airliner;
  • On August 21, 2016, a Cessna pilot flying at 5000 feet near Miami reported a drone in front of him that was close enough “to see a person’s face had he been taking a picture with a camera.”

The FAA notes that although several pilots reported being struck by drones, it “has not verified any collision between a civil aircraft and a civil drone.” In any event, although the FAA has stated that it wants to send out “a clear message that operating drones around airplanes, helicopters and airports is dangerous and illegal,” it appears that many drone enthusiasts have failed to get the message.

A copy of the FAA’s sightings report can be found here.