Over the past few weeks, multiple news outlets have been reporting flight operation complications caused by unmanned aerial systems (UAS). The incidents raise the question of whether drones interfere with FOD prevention efforts. In early July 2017, an F-22 pilot had to avoid collision with a small UAS. On 30 July 2017, another UAS was observed operating in close range to a United Airlines Boeing 767. As drone usage is increasing, what does this mean for aviation safety?
Drone regulations are overseen by the FAA. The principles were created to protect FOD prevention efforts and maintain safe airspace. Current regulations state that any UAS operator must fly below 400 feet and comply with restricted airspace rules. In addition, the FAA has multiple safety guidelines that encourage UAS operators not to fly near other aircraft, keep the UAS within sight, and to yield the right of way to manned aircraft.
“Recreational operators are required to give notice for flights within five miles of an airport to both the airport operator and air traffic control tower, if the airport has a tower. However, recreational operations are not permitted in Class B airspace around most major airports without specific air traffic permission and coordination.” – FAA Airport Drone Regulation
FOD Prevention Issues
While many FOD detection and prevention activities take place on the ground, it is imperative that aircraft are protected upon take off, inflight, and during landing. Some types of inflight FOD can be controlled, such as using FOD prevention systems to ensure loose tooling isn’t forgotten in an aircraft wing. Environmental factors, such as bird strikes, require detect and avoid strategies due to the inability to prevent wildlife flight patterns.
Current drone regulations prevent disabling, seizing, or shooting down UAS as they qualify as an aircraft. Another consideration is potential damage or injuries resulting from a descending UAS. The categorization of drones has caused much controversy because of emerging issues where drones interfere with FOD prevention efforts or pose other safety risks. Many feel that current regulations prohibit the aviation industry from ensuring safe skies and offer too much protection on the part of drone owners. Common statements claim that the administration should take a proactive instead of reactive stance.
Future of Airspace Safety
UAS laws may be changing as government administration is introducing a proposal that would allow law enforcement to monitor, shoot down, or seize drones that are violating certain conditions. The goal of the bill is allowing the disablement of drones to maintain public safety. The litigation could be a large step toward better UAS regulations. Technology exists today, from research and development company Battelle, which can neutralize UAS operations. The ultimate goal is to ensure that regulations restrict drone interference with FOD prevention efforts and public safety.