Maui News

Drone Sighting Reports from Pilots on the Rise, FAA Investigates

April 4, 2018, 12:59 PM HST
* Updated April 5, 6:17 AM
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Representatives with the Federal Aviation Administration say they are concerned with the number of drone sighting reports they have been receiving from pilots.

Drone. Maui Now photo.

“Although these reports are generally not possible to verify, there is a moderate upward trend in the numbers,” Ian Gregor, Communications Manager for the FAA Pacific Division told Maui Now in an email communication.

According to Gregor, the safe integration of drones into the national airspace system is one of the FAA’s top priorities.

The FAA reports that nationwide, pilot drone-sighting reports increased from about 1,200 in 2015 to 1,800 in 2016 and 2,200 in 2017.

For now, the FAA believes that the most effective safety tool is education.  That includes a comprehensive effort to educate drone pilots about the importance of flying safely and carrying out education partnerships with drone organizations and other stakeholders.

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“We believe most people want to fly safely and care about safety. But many, if not most, drone users have little to no prior aviation experience, and might not know what operating safely entails. Drone operators have to understand that as soon as they start flying outside, they are pilots with the responsibility to operate safely, just like pilots of manned aircraft,” said Gregor.

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According to Gregor, there is a drone registry for everyone who owns a drone (that weighs between 9 ounces and 55 pounds), and the process includes an educational component.

There are also several apps available, including one the FAA developed app, called B4UFLY, that lets drone pilots know whether it’s safe to fly in their current location or a planned future location.

“Additionally, we’re rolling out an automated system this year that will help commercial drone operators get very quick authorization to fly in certain controlled airspace, and what restrictions they have to observe as part of that authorization,” said Gregor.

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Recently, Transportation Secretary Chao also announced a new program called the Integration Pilot Program, which will enable local governments and private entities to partner up to research and test drone operations, including potential drone-detection technologies.

The FAA is also researching how to implement a remote identification and tracking capability for drones. “We set up a committee to come up with recommendations on what this system might look like and how it might work,” said Gregor.

“While our preference is to educate and to work with drone operators by providing them the information they need to fly safely, we don’t hesitate to take strong enforcement action when warranted,” said Gregor.

The fine from the FAA for individuals who operate drones unsafely is up to $1,437 per violation; while businesses that fly unsafely can face fines of up to $32,666 per violation.  On top of that, people who fly drones unsafely also can face federal criminal penalties including fines of up to $250,000 and/or imprisonment for up to three years.

Authorities say the FAA has initiated about 70 enforcement cases nationwide related to unauthorized or unsafe drone operations.

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