A royal eagle catches a drone during military exercise at the Mont-de-Marsan airbase, France, on February 10, 2017.
Photograph by Georges Gobet—AFP/Getty Images
By Jonathan Vanian
February 24, 2017

The next time you fly on an airplane, keep your eyes peeled for birds—not drones—flying too close to the plane’s wing.

Although in 2016, more drones have flown too close to airports compared to the previous year, none of those aerials actually smashed into airplanes, according to research released by the Federal Aviation Administration this week. The report detailed more than 1,200 incidents of airplane pilots, law enforcement, air traffic controllers, and U.S. citizens reporting drones flying in places they shouldn’t.

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One of takeaway of the report was that while the FAA has received several reports from pilots that drones may have hit their aircraft, the administration was unable to verify any such claim.

“Every investigation has found the reported collisions were either birds, impact with other items such as wires and posts, or structural failure not related to colliding with an unmanned aircraft,” the FAA said in a statement.

The report is noteworthy given the fear many people have of drones crashing into planes and causing major catastrophes.

Last April, for example, a British Airways pilot claimed a drone hit his plane during his landing at London’s Heathrow Airport. While the drone incident led to stories in major news outlets like the BBC and the Guardian, a follow-up British government investigation found that the pilot had misidentified the object.

“There is indeed some speculation it may have been even a plastic bag or something,” a U.K. minister of state for transport Robert Goodwill said at the time.

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Still, various regulatory agencies like the FAA consider it a problem that drones are flying too close to unauthorized locations like airports, or up into restricted altitudes.

Although a drone hasn’t smashed into an airplane yet, the FAA “wants to send a clear message that operating drones around airplanes and helicopters is dangerous and illegal.”

“Unauthorized operators may be subject to stiff fines and criminal charges, including possible jail time,” the FAA said.

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