U.S. Sen. Chuck Schumer called on the federal government Friday to release what he dubs "much-needed rules" for the use of unmanned drones in light of two recent instances of drones encroaching into Westchester County Airport airspace.
The Democratic senator from New York says recent "near-miss" cases of drones flying dangerously close to passenger planes, including one that encroached on a jet's airspace as it was landing in Westchester County, underscore the need for the government to outline regulations that clearly delineate what is legal in terms of drone use -- and what is not.
Federal law prohibits drones from flying higher than 400 feet and requires drone operators to get permission before flying their devices within five miles of an airport, but recent near-misses in New York and elsewhere across the country indicate at least the latter part of the law is being ignored.
In August, the White Plains Police Department reported a drone hovering in the airspace near the Westchester County Airport, according to Schumer. President Obama flew into the same airport that month while on an East Coast fundraising trip. In September, the senators says airport personnel and a pilot reported a drone entering the airspace of a landing plane near the airport.
Schumer said that while these drones, used both by companies and individuals, are usually small, they can do immense damage if they collide with a jet engine or a plane’s windshield. Schumer said Friday that as this technology becomes even more popular, it creates an even larger cause for concern in terms of airline and pedestrian safety.
Since 2009, there have been 23 accidents and 236 incidents deemed “unsafe” by the FAA in which registered civilian drones were involved, Schumer said. In many cases, the drones are too small and cannot be clearly identified on an airplane’s radar system.
Schumer says the Federal Aviation Administration has spent years developing drone privacy and usage guidelines and that those guidelines have been languishing in the Office of Management and Budget, awaiting review.
"Federal bureaucracy has stood in the way of FAA drone rules to protect New York fliers’ safety, and it’s time for the OMB to review and approve the new drone regulations that the FAA has sent to their desk so that our airspace stays safe," Schumer said "The lack of clear rules about small drones, what is a commercial versus a hobby drone, and how and where they can be used, is creating a serious threat to New Yorkers’ safety. We cannot wait for a fatal crash or incident to get this done."
The FAA said in a statement it was continuing to work with administration colleagues on the regulation.
"It is our goal to get the proposal right," the agency's statement said.
In New York City, a recently proposed City Council bill would restrict drones to limited public spaces like parks, while banning them from heavily populated areas such as sports arenas or airports.
Councilman Daniel Garodnick, who sponsored the proposal, said he fears drones could be used as weapons or cause mid-air collisions. In September, an NYPD helicopter nearly missed colliding with a drone. Two months later, pilots reported drones flying near John F. Kennedy Airport on several occasions.
No injuries related to the drone near-misses have been reported.