Government Officials Must Solve the Rogue Drone Collision-Risk Problem

There needs to be some regulation before an accident occurs and the whole industry is brought to a screeching halt.

by Tom Dennis, Grand Forks Herald / September 14, 2015

(TNS) -- "Grand future" is right. The more one learns about the unmanned aerial systems industry in Grand Forks, the more one senses the excitement and realizes that the headline over today's feature about the Grand Sky aviation business park is dead on.

Which is absolutely terrific news, of course.

And that means it's a time to start "checking your six."

Because as history and daily life show, trend is not destiny. Just because the UAS industry is on the upswing doesn't mean the trajectory will go on forever.

In fact, if an unmanned aircraft were to collide with a passenger jet tomorrow and cause a major accident, the industry's upward climb might not even last the week. As the Las Vegas Review-Journal put it in an editorial earlier this month, "one reckless idiot could bring the entire industry down and flush billions of dollars in investment."

Which should remind industry leaders, North Dakota's congressional delegation and the FAA to work even harder on reducing those dangers.

Because the trends in near-misses and other frightening incidents are on the upswing too.

"The Federal Aviation Administration [FAA] said pilot sightings of drones have grown at an alarming rate this year, endangering commercial aircraft and interfering with firefighting operations," The Hill newspaper in Washington reported in August.

"In 2014, 238 drones were spotted by pilots. So far this year, more than 650 incidents have been logged.

"In June 2014, 16 drones were spotted in midair. In June of this year, there were 138 incidents up to 100,000 feet, the FAA said."

To the UAS industry's credit, it's well aware of the dangers posed by rogue drones and is asking the FAA to crack down. "The proliferation of irresponsible UAS flights underscores the need for the FAA to finalize its small UAS rules and more aggressively enforce existing regulations," said Brian Wynne, president of the Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International, in The Hill story.

"AUVSI supports stricter enforcement of careless and reckless operators and those who violate restricted airspace. ... The FAA currently has the authority to levy hefty civil penalties," Wynne said.

Here's another possibility: Technology called "geofencing," which prevents drones from flying into unauthorized airspace.

Meanwhile, Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., has introduced the Consumer Drone Safety Act, which would force the makers of small unmanned aircraft to hardwire limits, such as a cap on the altitude the drones could climb to. That sounds like an overreaction, but it'll become the norm — unless the industry and federal government can can develop less intrusive but still effective restrictions. UAS boosters should give such efforts their all.

©2015 the Grand Forks Herald (Grand Forks, N.D.) Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.