Drones near-misses are posing a growing threat to pilots

Pilots, particularly in Alaska, have long had to contend with the challenges their job entails, such as poor weather and difficult terrain. However, a new threat to aviation safety is growing, one that both pilots and lawmakers say could easily lead to a serious aviation accident;  unmanned drones. As the Washington Post recently reported, near-misses between drones and aircraft have soared this year as sales of the unmanned devices soar. With little regulation of this booming industry, some are suggesting it is just a matter of time before a drone leads to a major aircraft disaster.

Hundreds of near-misses

Leaked documents from the Federal Aviation Administration show that there have been close to 700 drone sightings by pilots so far this year. By the end of the year, pilot sightings of drones may top 1,000, a substantial increase from the 238 sightings that were recorded all of last year.

While drones are forbidden from flying above 400 feet and near restricted airspace, those rules have so far failed to stem the number of close-calls between drones and other aircrafts. For example, an emergency medical helicopter in California recently had to swerve out of the way of a drone that was just 20 feet away. Meanwhile, commercial pilots near New York City have reported sighting drones as high as 12,000 feet.

A matter of time?

As one U.S. Senator puts it, it is just "a matter of time" before a drone strikes an aircraft and causes a major disaster. Some drones can weigh over 50 pounds, which is more than enough to cause catastrophic damage to a plane's windshield or engine. As USA Today points out, because drones are not registered, have no transponders, and are too small to show up on radar, offenders are rarely punished for these near-misses. Furthermore, drone users are not required to undergo any training in the safe use of the unmanned devices. While the FAA is working on new regulations, it is still unclear when those rules will go into effect or how they will be enforced.

While near-misses involving large commercial airliners tend to draw the most headlines, the greatest threat is actually posed to small aircraft that fly at lower altitudes, such as those that are common in Alaska's skies. Small aircraft pilots across the United States have noted numerous incidents where drones have come so close that avoiding a collision proved nearly impossible. Needless to say, the damage even a small drone could do to an aircraft's propeller or windshield could be enough to cause a serious accident.

Aviation accidents

Whether for tourism, transportation, or medical emergencies, aviation is a way of life for many in Alaska. However, accidents can happen and when they do, the injuries suffered are often severe and even fatal. For people who have been injured or have lost a loved one in an aviation accident it is important to contact a personal injury attorney as soon as possible. An attorney who is experienced in the unique challenges posed by aviation accident cases will be in the best position to advise accident survivors of what legal steps they can take in the weeks and months ahead.