BALTIMORE (WJZ) — The number of drone sightings continues to surge, putting planes and other aircraft in danger.
The FAA says pilots are coming across dozens of drones each month, too many close calls, that are a disaster waiting to happen, as they continue to boom with popularity.
So do a number of close calls between drones and planes — potentially deadly collisions that are often just feet away from becoming reality.
“The incidents where there could be a strike between a drone and manned aircraft, could be catastrophic,” says Aviation Expert Keith S. Franz.
New numbers from the FAA show there were nearly 1,300 drone sightings from February to September 2016 — up 46 percent from that same time the year before.
At LAX, one month brought 11 near-hits, and Newark Airport had four close calls in just one day. The FAA says they’re now getting more than 100 reports each month from pilots and law enforcement, coming across drones.
“These are not toys, can cause considerable damage,” says Franz.
Franz says while plenty of operators are educated, there are many who still aren’t.
If an inexperienced, uneducated drone user is flying around an airport, Franz says it could cause issues for planes.
“Possibly a drone could be drawn through one of jet engines which could cause considerable havoc.”
The FAA continues to preach education about the rules, and for anyone who breaks those, they can be fined up to $250,000, and could be put into jail for up to three years.
Some rules include each aircraft needs to be registered with the FAA, and can’t be flown within five miles of an airport. Additionally, drones can’t fly higher than 400 feet and the operator needs to have their drone in sight at all times.
“It’s likely just a matter of time before someone goes beyond the boundaries of what’s appropriate,” says Franz.
Franz added that after takeoff, planes are restricted in terms of maneuvering if they come across a drone, very similar to a potential bird strike.
“Aircraft soon after takeoff, do not have the capabilities of maneuvering that they might otherwise when they are at full speed and full altitude that would give them some margin of error.
Franz says it’s crucial to continue to preach education for drone operators.
“Drone operators must understand the rules, the rules are not that difficult. There are plenty of people who follow the rules but there are many who aren’t. If the rules are followed, things should be safe but if you break those rules, there could be serious consequences. The increase is a problem that we’re seeing and we’re trying to educate everyone.”