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U.S. Department of Transportation U.S. Department of Transportation Icon United States Department of Transportation United States Department of Transportation

Box 6-C Drones Pose New Aviation Threat

Thursday, March 31, 2016

The rising popularity of unmanned aircraft systems (UAS), commonly known as “drones,” presents a major safety risk to manned aircraft crews, airline passengers, and anyone below their flight paths. For example, unauthorized UAS flights recently interfered with aerial tankers battling wildfires, which grounded the manned aircraft and put firefighters on the ground at greater risk [USDOT FAA 2015a].

In all of 2014, pilots reported 238 unmanned aircraft sightings. But as of Aug. 9, 2015, pilots of all aircraft types, including large, commercial passenger aircraft reported more than 650 UAS sightings. In June 2015 alone, 138 pilots reported seeing drones at altitudes up to 10,000 feet, up from 16 reported sightings in June 2014. Unauthorized drone operators may be subject to fines of up to $25,000 and 20 years in jail [USDOT FAA 2015b].

On October 19, the U.S. Department of Transportation announced plans to develop an Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS) registration process, which helps hold unsafe operators accountable and responsible for ensuring public safety in the air and on the ground [USDOT FAA 2015c].


U.S. Department of Transportation (USDOT), Federal Aviation Administration (FAA):

—2015a. FAA: Wildfires and Drones Don’t Mix. Available at as of August 2015.

—2015b. Pilot Reports of Close Calls With Drones Soar in 2015. Available at http://www. as of August 2015.

—2015c. U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx Announces Unmanned Aircraft Registration Available at https://www. as of October 2015.