Business

FAA vows to be tough on drone violations

String of incidents deepends concern about injuries, spying

NEW YORK — The Federal Aviation Administration said it is stepping up its enforcement of commercial drone regulations after a growing number of dangerous incidents, including a crash this month that injured an infant.

On Sept. 12, a commercial drone crashed into a street in Pasadena, Calif., kicking up debris that cut and bruised an 11-month-old girl who was being pushed in a stroller, according to an account in the Pasadena Star-News. The operator, a 24-year-old man, lost control of his DJI Inspire 1 after a signal problem, police said.

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The girl, who suffered a quarter-inch cut on her head, was treated at a hospital. “It could have been much worse,” Lieutenant Mike Ingram of the Pasadena Police Department told the Star-News.

FAA officials said in a statement that they have grown concerned about a rise in reports of recklessness with drones as more Americans are drawn to the technology. The Pasadena case is perhaps the most startling of a string of recent incidents.

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 On Tuesday, a 57-year-old man was charged in Los Angeles with obstructing a police officer after officials said he flew a drone near a police helicopter, according to the Los Angeles Times. The helicopter “had to make some movements to avoid” the drone, a police officer said.

 Last week, an inmate and two other men were indicted and accused of devising a plot to smuggle drugs, cellphones, and other contraband into a Maryland prison using a drone, the Baltimore Sun reported.

 Authorities said a former police officer in Valdosta, Ga., was charged with felony eavesdropping Sept. 14, accused of using a drone to spy on a neighbor, according to a news station, WALB. Officer Howard Kirkland was fired days later, the station said.

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 Police at the University of Kentucky charged a graduate student with endangerment, accusing him of flying a drone that crashed inside the school’s football stadium before a game on Sept. 5, the Associated Press reported. A military sky diver parachuting into the stadium told the police that he had to evade the drone, which came within 20 feet of his parachute, the article said.

 Daniel Verley, a high school teacher in New York City, was charged with reckless endangerment after he was accused of crashing a drone at the US Open tennis tournament, according to the AP. His lawyer said he was trying to take photos of a globe sculpture at nearby Flushing Meadows Park.

 In July, the FAA, along with police in Clinton, Conn., began investigating after 18-year-old Austin Haughwout posted a video online of shots being fired from a drone rigged with a handgun, the AP reported. Haughwout’s father told a local television station that his son created the drone with a college professor as part of a project.

In all, the FAA said it had initiated more than 20 cases over drone activity. The drone operator in Pasadena was not charged, but the FAA said it had opened an investigation into the incident. The agency warned that such conduct can bring fines of between $1,000 and $25,000.

Of greater concern to the FAA is the danger of a drone interfering with an airplane or a helicopter. Pilots reported 650 close calls through Aug. 9 of this year, up from 238 in all of 2014, the agency said. To help avoid a potentially deadly scenario, the FAA has partnered with industry leaders on a campaign called Know Before You Fly.

Senator Charles Schumer, Democrat of New York, has said he plans to introduce an amendment to a spending bill that would require drone manufacturers to include “geo-fencing” technology that would keep them from flying over sensitive areas like airports. The technology could also be used to keep drones away from things like parades and sporting events.

“It’s just a matter of time before one gets sucked into a jet engine and tragedy follows,” Schumer said, according to Buffalo Business First.

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