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Study Reports 327 ‘Close Encounters’ Between Planes and Drones

December 12, 2015, 3:30 PM UTC
Flying drone with camera
Photogtaph by Buena Vista Images — Getty Images

There haven’t yet been any reported collisions between manned aircrafts and drones in the United States. But a new study suggests that it might just be a matter of time.

The report, released today by the Center for the Study of the Drone at Bard College, finds that there have been 327 “close encounters” between airplanes and recreational drones. The first examination of the subject by researchers outside of the aviation industry—the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has previously released data—the report looked at 921 incidents involving drones and manned aircrafts between December 17, 2013 and September 12, 2015.

Over those 21 months, there were 594 sightings of drones near manned aircraft, and 327 instances where the drones were close enough to present “some level of hazard to manned aircraft.” Even more frightening, in 28 situations, the pilot of the aircraft had to change course to prevent a crash.

“With sufficient speed, bird strikes have been known to penetrate the cockpit,” said the report, indicating how dangerous a collision could be. “It’s entirely possible, then, that a drone could also break through into a cockpit, potentially causing serious harm to the pilots or other occupants.”

A number of ski resorts declaring themselves “drone-free” and there’s a temporary ban on the devices in National Parks, but no one in travel is more affected by the rise of recreational drones than the aviation industry, and concern is only growing.

Between end-of-year sales and Christmas gifts, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) is estimating that close to one million new recreational drones will be entering U.S. airspace this year.

“With more and more drones entering our airspace, ‘Drone Sightings and Close Encounters’ will serve as a reliable resource for policymakers and the industry as they work to develop strategies and solutions to address the growing number of potentially dangerous incidents between manned and unmanned aircraft,” said the study’s co-author, Dan Gettinger. “Our hope is that this study can help engender a collaborative dialogue among stakeholders working on this issue.”

So before you take your shiny new drone out for a test run this Christmas, read up on theFAA’s safety guidelines, which request that drone enthusiasts keep their devices below 400 feet, in their line of vision, and at least five miles from an airport.

For the full report from the Center for the Study of the Drone, click here.

This article was previously published on Travel + Leisure.

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