No, it wasn't terrorists but rather a motley crew of half-assed drone operators who disrupted air traffic across the nation last Sunday unleashing a swarm of rogue drones near major airports. The near misses included a white drone startling the pilot of a Jet Blue flight before it landed at LAX, then a quadricopter whizzing just below an Allegiant Air flight and in D.C. a Cessna pilot reported a drone cruising at 1,500 ft. in restricted airspace above the capitol. Then in Louisville, a silver and white drone nearly collided with a training aircraft and over Chicago United Flt. 970 reported a drone passing close by. Twelve near misses in one freaking day!
The news (WSJ, Aug. 14, p. A3, Denver Post, Aug. 20, p. 14A) that there have been 700 close calls with commercial aircraft so far this year (defined as being close enough to see the little bastards) has to have any sober air traveler worried. Because he'd realize it's only a matter of time before one of the little fuckers collides with a passenger jet or is sucked into an engine causing a catastrophic event with possibly hundreds of lives lost.
The 700 number, through August 9th, according to the FAA, vastly eclipses the 238 for all of last year. So what the hell gives? What gives is it's "drones gone wild". Thanks to a congress full of poltroons, cowards and venal weasels there are now more than 1 million consumer drones vying for airspace - as if besieged air traffic controllers don't have enough objects to worry about on their screens.
Already the FAA has fined drone operators in 20 cases of drones flying too close to aircraft, but this is like a slap on the wrist. The FAA head meanwhile promises "tough countermeasures" and "strict enforcement" but let's face it - these words are mostly hot air given none of the drones are unregistered and can't be GPS-tracked. The operators almost have to turn themselves in in order to mete out any punishment. What we really need is for Homeland Security - which is to protect air travel over the U.S. - to have sophisticated weapons available to disable these intruders. If we are expending so much to defend against terrorists we must do the same for these damned rogue drones, and not wait for a disaster.
This is all the more pressing as the Washington Post recently obtained hundreds of near miss reports from a gov't official who objected to the FAA secrecy on the matter. Including that the rogue drones had penetrated some of the most guarded airspaces in the country. That these intrusions could be allowed, and moreover be kept secret (out of a feeling of FAA impotence) is abominable.
If there is, god forbid, a drone -airliner calamity, what then? Then I blame not only the irresponsible drone operators but congress!
The existence of the relevant bill was first reported on Feb. 4, 2012 in The Wall Street Journal ('U.S. Skies Could See More Drones', p. A7)and it came as a shocker of sorts. First, because it disclosed yet another federal agency (FAA) held hostage to the corporatist-industrial complex, attempting to find new avenues for drone production since the occupations in Iraq and Afghanistan were ending.. And second, because it disclosed how secretive this corporate-benefiting information and cronyist legislating really is.
Medea Benjamin made reference to the spectacle of congressional corporate compliance and being bought out by the drone makers, as she said:
"They’ve been able to write the drone legislation and get their lackeys in Congress to push it through and get the president to sign it.”
In other words, the congressional rats and whores placed the bottom line of corporations over citizen welfare. But this is what we expect in a Neoliberal corporatocracy. In the case of the FAA bill, worth some $63 billion to the drone lobbyists, we've now beheld the sour fruit: U.S. skies inundated with a million unmanned drones sharing airspace with commercial planes.
The WSJ piece insists "the FAA and the drone industry are working to educate users that explains the rules, including that drones generally can't fly above 400 feet or within 5 miles of an airport."
But given the close calls, it appears the campaign isn't making a dent. Operators continue to flout the rules, and some aviation "experts" aren't helping the matter by claiming that "drones don't pose a threat to large commercial aircraft". I dispute that, given at least two commercial aircraft have been brought down by small birds being sucked into engines. And make no mistake, a 4-5 lb. drone is every bit as large, in fact larger, than most birds. So this take is bollocks.
Meanwhile, as it's the 'wild West' in the skies, our congress critters are stuffing their pockets and mouths on all the largesse brought to them compliments of the pro-drone lobbyists.
But if there is one airliner-drone collision resulting in a crash that costs lives, the bastards ought to be made to attend each and every funeral! Also, in the case of any serious injuries - pony up the money to pay for all the hospital bills!