Future Tense

FAA Reports That Drones and Airplanes Keep Coming Close to Colliding

Near-collisions between airliners and drones are rising.

Photo by Brendon Thorne/Getty Images

On Wednesday the Federal Aviation Administration released incident reports for roughly 25 in-air near-collisions between airplanes and small drones. The disclosure, which includes records dating back to June 1, was motivated by Freedom of Information Act requests made by the Washington Post and other news outlets.

As the FAA grapples publicly with the decision about how best to regulate drones, the revelation provides context for what the agency has been weighing internally. Pilots and air-traffic controllers are reporting an increasing number of concerning incidents related to small drones, including sightings near airports and no-fly zones, and close calls that almost lead to collisions. Previously the FAA had only publicly acknowledge one near-collision, which occured on March 22 when a US Airways plane almost hit a small drone at 2,300 feet over Florida.

The Post reports that most of the incidents in its disclosure occurred near New York City and Washington, D.C., and writes, “The FAA data indicates that drones are posing a much greater hazard to air traffic than previously recognized.” And Greg Lynskey, a government relations manager for the Association of Air Medical Services, responded to the FAA release by saying, “I’m hoping this can get worked out before we have a catastrophic incident. … It wouldn’t take much to bring down a helicopter. If a drone hits the tail rotor, that’d pretty much be it.”