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US probe of drone collisions with aircraft points to birds

The reported impacts were caused by birds, wires and posts or were linked to unrelated structural failure, FAA said

intel falcon8
Credit: Intel

Investigations into reported collisions by drones with civil aircraft found that they were caused instead by birds, wires and posts, or structural failures unrelated to unmanned aircraft systems (UAS), a U.S. regulator said.

There has been widespread concern about the risks that the flying of drones close to aircraft can pose, and the Federal Aviation Administration said Thursday that reports of “possible” drone sightings to FAA air traffic facilities continued to increase in fiscal year 2016.

There were 1,274 such reports of drone sightings from February through September last year, compared with 874 for the same period in 2015, the FAA said in a statement. Some of these sightings could have also been of birds mistaken for drones, according to analysts.

The agency added that although the data contained several reports of pilots claiming drone strikes on their aircraft, the FAA has not verified any collision between a civil aircraft and a civil drone to date.

The FAA’s approach to the integration of UAS into the national airspace system has been very cautious, disappointing many businesses that have planned deliveries using drones with having to keep every UAS within an operator’s line of sight.

New rules for small unmanned aircraft systems, introduced in June, for the first time broadly authorized commercial drone use in the U.S. but put operational restrictions on drone flights such as a maximum weight of 55 pounds (25 kilograms), flight altitude of a maximum of 400 feet (122 meters) and rules that limit flights to daylight and the visual line-of-sight of the operator.

The requirements can be waived under the rule, but the exemption process is cumbersome, time-consuming, and limited in scope, according to the Commercial Drone Alliance in a recent letter to the government. The waivers are approved by the FAA on a case-by-case basis and as of the date of the letter, the FAA had only issued waivers to 318 companies, the commercial drones organization added.

The Drone Manufacturers Alliance on Thursday said the FAA report confirms once again that UAS “have an admirable safety record,” despite an increase in the number of drones in the airspace. It added that analysis of previous FAA data had shown that many of the so-called sightings were of legitimate drone flights or misidentified objects.

Companies have, meanwhile, been testing deliveries with drones, despite the regulatory constraints. UPS tested recently the delivery to a rural home in Florida by a drone launched from the roof of a truck.

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