Study: Drones have had 921 near run-ins with manned aircraft since 2013

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Bill Roberson/Digital Trends
Drones flying close to aircraft is old news, but now there’s a new study that puts a fresh perspective on how often it happens. One of the takeaways is that the number of drones crossing paths with manned aircraft is rising quickly.

The study, “Drone Sightings and Close Encounters: An Analysis” from Bard College’s Center for the Study of the Drone, collected records of 921 incidents involving drones and manned aircraft between December 17, 2013, and September 12, 2015. It broke incidents down into two categories: “Close Encounters,” where a manned aircraft had a near midair collision with a drone; and “Sightings,” where a pilot or air traffic controller saw a drone flying in or near the flight paths of manned aircraft, but not at a threatening distance to manned aircraft.

According to the study, 35.5 percent of incidents, or 327, were Close Encounters; and 64.5 percent of incidents, or 594, were Sightings. Overall, more than 90 percent of incidents happened above 400 feet, which is the maximum altitude at which drones are allowed to fly.

“Some people just want to see how far they can go and how far they can take the drone,” Dan Gettinger, co-author of the report, told NPR. “And some people just want to see what it’s like to fly above the clouds.”

“The rate at which incidents were reported grew rapidly over the period covered by our database,” according to the study. The database has 213 incidents from 2014 and 707 incidents from 2015, in addition to one incident preceding 2014.

New York City and Newark accounted for 86 incidents, making them the most common locations for dangerous drone and manned aircraft run-ins.

So far, there have been only a couple “minor, unconfirmed midair collisions” between drones and manned aircraft, according to the study.

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