Second-take: Recent drone near-miss adds weight to justification for UAV rules

A past Drone Girl article discussed the Florida “Near-miss” drone accident, in which the FAA revealed that a drone may have collided with a US Airways airplane in Tallahassee, Fla. Now, Brock Christoval, Founder of Flyspan Systems who also sits on an FAA advisory board is offering a different opinion on the matter. Here’s his take:

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F-4 Phantom Model UAV

The recent near mid air collision near the Tallahassee airport is a cause for concern. It adds weight to the justification for having rules to operate UAV’s.

The main concern from the recent incident is that that drone was in close proximity to the commercial aircraft. The commercial pilot reported of a UAV that was shaped like an F-4 Phantom. The maximum gross take off weight for this type of UAV is around 40 lbs. That’s roughly the size of a very large bird. Amateur model pilots most often use this type of aircraft and it most likely had a small turbine for its propulsion. An aircraft that size could easily take out an engine on a large commercial aircraft.

Section 2 (a) of the Academy of Model Aeronautics rules states “Pilots shall…Not fly higher than approximately 400 feet above ground level within three (3) miles of an airport without notifying the airport operator.”

Turbine and Exhaust Used in F-4 Phantom Model UAV

Turbine and Exhaust Used in F-4 Phantom Model UAV

It’s possible that the airport operator was aware of the UAV flying above 400 feet. However, it’s probable that if the airport operator had known of that they would have notified nearby aircraft. So, sometime leading up to the incident there was a communication failure – the one thing you don’t want when operating aircraft of any type.

It’s unsure if this pilot had the authority to operate near the airport or if they had an Academy of Model Aeronautics license. But the evidence is clear, the FAA has to clearly articulate rules for UAV’s operating in close proximity to airports. Until then, we’re going to hear of more near miss reports similar to this one.

-Guest commentary by Brock Christoval.

Photos courtesy of Google, Inc.

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