WASHINGTON — Alarmed by increasing encounters between small drones and manned aircraft, drone industry officials said Monday they are teaming up with the government and model aircraft hobbyists to launch a safety campaign.
The campaign includes a website — www.knowbeforeyoufly.com — which advises both recreational and commercial drone operators of FAA regulations and how to fly their unmanned aircraft safely. The campaign was announced by Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International and the Small UAV Coalition, both industry trade groups, and the Academy of Model Aeronautics, which represents model aircraft hobbyists, in partnership with the Federal Aviation Administration.
The two industry trade groups also said they plan to distribute safety pamphlets at industry events, and are working with drone manufacturers to see that safety information is enclosed inside the package of new drones.
Retailers say small drones, which are indistinguishable from today's more sophisticated model aircraft, are flying off the shelves this Christmas.
"In just a few days, kids old and young will unwrap presents, and many of them — maybe tens of thousands — will have unmanned aircraft," Michael Toscano, president of the unmanned vehicle association, said in a conference call with reporters. "This technology is very accessible and in very high demand, but information on how to fly safety isn't readily available. That's why we've created this safety campaign."
The FAA is concerned that amateurs are using the drones in a reckless manner, increasing the likelihood of a collision that could bring down a plane or rain debris down on people. The agency has been receiving about 25 reports per month this year of drones sighted flying near manned aircraft or airports, up from just a handful of reports two years ago.
"This is an issue of growing concern," said FAA Administrator Michael Huerta. "The price of unmanned aircraft has come down and this newer and more powerful technology is more affordable to more people, yet many are not familiar with the rules of flying."
Small drones are available today for as little as a few hundred dollars. As of the end of 2013, about 1 million small drones had been sold worldwide for recreational and commercial use, according to industry estimates. Sales this year are expected to significantly outdistance previous tallies. Catalogs life Hammacher Schlemmer and Brookestone have prominently feature small drones this Christmas, while online retailer Amazon is offering more than a dozen different models priced from as little as $30 to nearly $3,000.
"Many of these operators have no aviation history, background or knowledge," Margaret Gilligan, FAA's associate administrator for safety, told a recent forum hosted by the Air Line Pilots Association. "They think they just bought something fun that they just want to fly around. They don't for a moment think, 'I'm entering the national airspace system.' "
Such operators don't intend to interfere with manned aircraft, but "they just don't know what they don't know," she said.
In response to safety concerns, Amazon created a special webpage on it's website with safety information for drone customers.
But Ben Berman, an airline captain who flies Boeing 737s, told the same forum that "the current situation is out of control."
"An education campaign on Amazon.com is not adequate," he said. "Yes, if my aircraft goes down and we are mourning something strong will happen, but we can't allow that to happen to me or anybody else."
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