Tuesday, June 19, 2018

Drone Makers: "What's A Little Risk For A Jumbo Jet Getting A Drone Into An Engine?"

To read the evident caterwauling of the drone makers and their delirious aficionados ('Drone Makers Fight Back Against Rules,  WSJ,  June 12, p. B5) one would think there's absolutely no big deal in terms of the risk the little mechanical beasties pose to planes.  Indeed, it now appears, the drone maker lobbies have even gotten to the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine to carry their  PR 'water' for them.  This is in a new report which takes the FAA to task  for its "near zero tolerance for risk involving airlines".  That is, with potential for collision with small drones flying at low altitudes near airports.   (The report insists most small drones fly away from airports, but the existing stats refute that).

A  Denver Post, piece: 'Drone Close Calls'(June 25th, 2014,  p. 17A)   referenced dozens of perilous close calls, e.g.(p. 22A):

"The close calls were the latest in a rash of dangerous encounters between civilian aircraft and drones flown in contravention of FAA rules intended to safeguard U.S. airspace.."

The accumulating incidents (which btw,  have continued)  so spooked one commercial pilot (Greg Cromer) that he actually wrote a letter to the FAA opposing the whole insane idea of opening U.S. airspace to these pestiferous interlopers, writing (ibid.):

 "I can see no way to prevent a collision with something that could be as small as a bird or a plane or kitchen appliance."

Even then, Michael Kratsios - the  then White House deputy chief technology adviser- bloviated to a federal- industry drone conference:

"The U.S. cannot allow the promise of tomorrow to be hamstrung by the bureaucracy of the past"

Oh, righto, the "promise" of catastrophic new commercial jet crashes. Forgetting or ignoring that part of that "bureaucracy" - ensconced in the FAA - has also been to ensure the safety of the flying public.

So now the 'chickens' of disputed risk are coming back to roost with ever increasing pressure for the FAA to give in, and then - when the first big drone- airliner collision results in hundreds killed- there will be the usual bullshit response, "Well, we never knew that could occur!"

But as with the case of mass shooting massacres (like in Vegas and Parkland) - which often surpass terror attacks in death tolls, we seem to pick and choose which modes of loss of life are acceptable (say for the sake of profits) and which aren't.  In the case of mass shootings using AR-15s or a possible drone-airline collision,  it is the profits of gun and drone makers that need protection. In the case of the standard 'Muslim radical" attack that takes lives, we're all hands on deck and man the barricades and everything else.  After all, it's just a brown guy (usually) with a bomb or rifle that needs taking down, so ...no big loss. Right?

The recent report is also at odds with an earlier report released June 5, 2014  by the National Academy of Sciences, which concluded that "there were serious unanswered questions” about how to safely integrate civilian drones into the national airspace, calling it a “critical, crosscutting challenge." 

In addition, a NASA report from the same year notes:  "the NASA database confirms that dangerous brushes between drones and passenger aircraft are more common than the FAA acknowledges." According to the database, there were 50 incidents from 2005- 2014.  That number of incidents has quadrupled since, including potential disasters.   Meanwhile, drone sightings alone by pilots have increased ten times over since 2005. 

All of this shows the risks are real and not to be minimized by greedy lobbyists,  cockeyed hobbyists, poltroons, or bought- out agencies.    Nevertheless, the ongoing efforts in many venues is to do just that including one hub of  academic minimizers at a site called 'The Conversation' who blabbed:

"The FAA has raised the alarm about drones in the airspace, and now receives over 100 reports of unmanned aircraft flying near other manned aircraft or airports per month. However, as the Academy of Model Aeronautics has noted, many of these sightings do not reflect any danger to passengers. Analyzing 921 reported incidents, a study at Bard College found that in only 158 of them did a drone come within 200 feet of a manned aircraft. In only 28 incidents did pilots even decide to take evasive action."

Well, excuse me, Ivory tower Sparkies - but within 200' qualifies as a near collision!   And "only 28 instances of evasive action" could have been 28 collisions had such action not been taken!  Also it is foolish to compare a bird strike to a drone colliding with an engine. A bird is mostly feathers and with no hard, mechanical parts. While such strikes can indeed be nasty - as Capt. Sully Sullenberger learned, they need not be deadly like a hard metal contraption sucked into a jet engine would be!

This same sort of inane, deranged thinking - driven by greed and expedient myopia- was reflected in a remark by George Ligler, chairman of the committee that drafted the latest document (ibid.):

"We do not ground airplanes because birds fly in the airspace although birds can and do bring down aircraft"

True, but again,  birds are natural creatures to this world not invented monstrosities that can be set alight with an infernal capacity for deliberate nuisance effect and calamity! Also, the level of catastrophic incident would be much much greater if a metallic drone flies into a jet engine, fragmenting its lethal blades. Birds are one thing and part of the natural order, but as I pointed out before, millions of mechanical, man-made drones should not be allowed to fly ANYWHERE  near a commercial airspace- until ironclad regs are in place to control them. 

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.

Let the drone makers, Wall Street and others bark, whine and yap about too slow a pace for  "accelerating" the flying of millions more drones, the FAA needs to sustain a backbone, stand firm and tell them 'NO!'

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