Despite plenty of publicity pointing out that it’s really not a good idea to fly drones close to airports where large passenger-filled planes tend to gather, there are still a handful of people willfully ignoring the advice for reasons unknown.
Another serious incident occurred on Sunday morning when air traffic controllers at Newark Liberty International Airport spotted a drone getting uncomfortably close to a United Airlines passenger plane coming in to land after an eight-hour flight from Zurich, Switzerland.
Controllers alerted the pilots to the drone when it was spotted close to the plane’s flight path about two miles out, United said. Flight 135’s pilots then monitored it before safely landing the Boeing 767-400 a short while later.
The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) is now investigating the incident.
The problem of rogue drone flights close to restricted areas such as airports is a growing one. Data compiled by the FAA between February and September 2016 listed 1,274 possible drone sightings by U.S. air traffic facilities, compared to 874 for the same period a year earlier.
The issue isn’t just confined to the United States. With remotely controlled flying machines increasing in popularity around the world in recent years, incursions have been occurring at airports everywhere. An incident involving a drone last month at London Gatwick — one of the United Kingdom’s busiest airports — forced air traffic controllers to temporarily close the runway and divert several flights to other airports in the region.
In response to the drone boom, the U.K. government is preparing to launch a nationwide drone registry that it believes will improve accountability and encourage drone pilots to fly their machines more responsibly. Owners will also have to pass a written test to demonstrate that they understand safety and privacy rules relating to drones.
The pressing need to stop drone flights in restricted areas has spawned a new industry, with a growing number of companies offering mostly high-tech solutions to take down rogue drones. Systems include everything from net-firing bazookas to electromagnetic defense shields. In the Netherlands, they’ve even trained eagles to tackle illegal drone flights by getting them to pluck the machines straight out of the sky.