With drone sightings by airline pilots and intrusions into commercial airspace rising, the FAA is relying on education and ad campaigns to get the unmanned small aircraft to blend more safely into the aerial landscape.
The FAA reported 650 drone sightings and near-misses of commercial aircraft in the first eight months of 2015, about four times the monthly average rate of sightings over the 238 reported in all of 2014. About one-fifth of the sightings have been near Los Angeles International Airport, according to an analysis by the office of Sen. Dianne Feinstein, who has proposed stricter drone regulations.
FAA Spokesman Ian Gregor says the agency is taking steps to safely integrate the unmanned small aircraft into the airspace. No permit is needed for recreational drone use, but commercial users have some requirements to meet.
The agency is working on a smart phone app that "that tells the operator based on their location whether it's safe to fly a drone and what restrictions might be in place around them," Gregor said.
A "geo-fencing" proposal included in a bill Feinstein sponsored would use drones' GPS to keep drones clear of no-fly zones. The FAA is also working on technology to make it easier to track down pilots when their drones fly off-limits. Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Burbank) has been pressing for similar controls on drones to keep them from interfering with firefighting aircraft.
LAX officials are monitoring the drone near-misses, but the airport police can't do much about them because most of the near-misses and sightings occur well off airport property in the approach path of aircraft from the east where they have no jurisdiction, said Los Angeles World Airports spokeswoman Nancy Castles.
"Airport police senior lead officers also meet regularly with neighboring communities as part of airport police's on-going community outreach and relationship-building program, and concerns about [drones] has been brought up as part of their community-education efforts," she said.