Friday, November 28, 2014

How Long Before A Drone - Commercial Aircraft Collision?

I estimate about 6 months, given the recent reports of very close encounters between unmanned craft and commercial aircraft - which now fill FAA records. Right now, the Federal Aviation Administration requires that drones remain below 400 feet, making it difficult for most potential users (including farmers, cops etc.) to use them effectively,

The problem is when the regulations are flouted for the sake of effectiveness (or by loonies with no business flying them at all)  hundreds of  people's lives are put at risk, those passengers in commercial airlines - such as a Delta plane last Sunday that came within 15 ft. of a drone at JFK, according to the pilot - who had to dodge it.

Though small, most of them range between the size of a typewriter and washing machine - they generally lack any "sense and avoid" technology which predisposes them toward collisions with aircraft landing or taking off.  Should these pests strike a vulnerable section on a plane - such as engine or cockpit - the result would be catastrophic. Such a collision would lead to the potential loss of hundreds of lives. Then, and only then will we likely take action.

According to the account in yesterday's Denver Post ('Close Calls with Drones', p. 13A):

"Pilots across the United States have reported a surge in near collisions and other dangerous encounters with small drones in the past six months at a time when the FAA is gradually opening the nation's skies to remote controlled aircraft, according to FAA records."

Which begs the question of whether the FAA ought to be "opening the skies" at all, given the spreading dangerous encounters and the unwillingness of the drone runners to obey basic rules - even now. As I pointed out before, the drones should not be allowed to fly ANYWHERE - until ironclad regs are in place. And those regulations ought to demand that drones and drone operators obey the same rules as commercial aircraft. Yes, it is indeed a steep demand - but it is consistent with the peril and calamity of a drone-commercial aircraft collision. The precautionary principle itself demands drone operators prove their craft are safe - before they can fly at altitudes that imperil commercial craft.

This is demanded by the content of the FAA records cited in the Denver Post, which include the fact that since June 1st, "pilots and air traffic controllers have reported twenty five episodes in which small drones came within a few seconds or a few feet of crashing into much larger aircraft."

This is totally unacceptable and the FAA needs to act now, as opposed to sitting on its butt - paralyzed because it feels caught between safety margin expectations of airline pilots and a push by congress (bought and sold whores) and the drone manufacturers to get as many into the skies by 2017 -  to fill their pockets and enhance profit margins.

Incredibly, we wouldn't even know about the latest spate of incidents had long standing public requests for information (by the Washington Post and other organizations) not been fulfilled. (Another reason citizens cannot afford to be asleep at the switch - including concerning past historical events like the Kennedy assassination - for which we are will awaiting all files to be released).

According to the Denver Post (ibid.):

"Until Wednesday the FAA had disclosed only one other midair near collision between a drone and a passenger aircraft. - a March 22 encounter near Tallahassee, FL between a U.S. Airways plane and what the pilot described as a 'small, remotely controlled craft at 2300 feet'".

The fact the FAA could try to conceal these incidents, analogous to how the National Archives has tried to conceal the Kennedy assassination files, is bad enough - but to refuse to act in the interest and welfare of airline passengers is inexcusable. Also, outrageous!  Especially so, since the 25 near midair collisions were among 175 that were reported by pilots and air traffic controllers near or in restricted airspace.

Thus, when I see and hear commercial poppets bloviating this morning (on CBS Early Show) about 'soon to come' drone package deliveries, it makes my head spin and I wonder what these people are drinking or smoking. Also, the FAA - as this blather goes on. When are they going to step in and slam down the hammer or are they waiting for the first catastrophe?

Pilot have described most of the drones putting their planes at risk as "small, camera -equipped models that have become increasingly popular with hobbyists and photographers."

Which underscores even more the need for rigorous controls. Any manjack can now go into a hobby store and plunk down a couple hundred and get his own drone to fly near commercial aircraft - because he's stupid or oblivious to the risks. These people need to be controlled for their own good!

As noted by retired Air Force General Fred Roggero, quoted in the Post piece:

"The potential for catastrophic damage is certainly there."

The FAA was to have issued regulations controlling drone flight in commercial airspace - but so far they are dragging their bought out asses. According to a disturbing report in The Denver Post ('Flying Blind', July 6, p. 1D)

" agency official reportedly has warned that the entire rulemaking process could take up to a decade."

A decade! That means the rules governing unmanned drone flight won't be available until 7 or so years AFTER the drones take to the skies!   The Post article goes on:

"Although rule-making for small, unmanned devices could begin by the end of the year, even the Inspector General of the Transportation Department has concluded 'the FAA will not meet the September 2015 deadline for safe drone integration and it is uncertain when it will be achieved,"

Then the solution ought to be obvious to our illustrious congress critters and all but the brain dead: the integration of drone flight into commercial airspace needs to be postponed! No unmanned drones going up until such time the FAA has its house in order and proper regulations published and mandated. 

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