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Mass. State Police to educate public on drones

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Asmall remote-controlled drone as it hovered in the sky.
Asmall remote-controlled drone as it hovered in the sky.(ROBERT MACPHERSON)

As drone use surges in popularity, Massachusetts State Police said Saturday that they are planning to launch a public awareness campaign to teach the rules of the sky to recreational operators of unmanned aerial vehicles.

The push, expected later this month, comes after two commercial flight crews flying into Logan International Airport reported seeing drones near their flight paths on Christmas and New Year's Day as they approached the same runway. Both flights landed safely.

"Drones or UAVs are welcome into the air space along with all the other aircraft. We all just need to follow the rules that the [Federal Aviation Administration] sets out," said Mark Estabrook, a general aviation pilot who flies out of Fitchburg Airport. "I think we can all share air space safely."

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State Police spokesman David Procopio said the public awareness effort is expected to highlight FAA rules on drone use through print, broadcast, online, and social media.

The most recent report of an unmanned aircraft encroaching on a Logan flight path was made Friday when a JetBlue flight crew spotted a device flying at about 700 feet around a mile from the airport, Procopio said.

State Police investigators interviewed the crew's captain, who said the unmanned aircraft was near the Madonna Queen of the Universe Shrine in East Boston, Procopio said.

On Dec. 25, the crew of an Air Canada Express plane flying from Toronto reported seeing an unmanned aircraft flying around 2 miles from the airport at about 800 feet, Procopio said. Investigators believe the device probably took flight somewhere along the Winthrop-Revere shore, he said.

Both times, State Police and local police officers were notified but did not find anyone operating an unmanned aircraft in the airport's flight paths, Procopio said. The Joint Terrorism Task Force was also alerted, a move that was described as "routine."

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"There is nothing to suggest the incidents have any connection to terrorism," Procopio said.

He said investigators do not know whether the incidents are related or whether the flight crews spotted an unmanned aircraft being operated by someone who received a drone for the holidays.

"We are vigilant and alert for any evidence that is something more than that," he said.

As of Dec. 21, FAA requires all unmanned aircraft weighing more than 0.55 pounds be registered. Drones cannot fly higher than 400 feet or within 5 miles of an airport without first contacting air traffic control and airport authorities, the FAA said.

A FAA spokeswoman said Saturday there were no updates about the unmanned aircraft reported by the JetBlue and Air Canada Express crews.

Some drone manufacturers now include technology in their products that prevent them from being flown near airports, several users said.

Jacob Lederer, who uses drones professionally and serves as an administrator for a Facebook group for hobbyists, said operators must be aware of where they're flying. His Facebook group, Boston UAV Association, has more than 100 members.

"If you're in an area that you're not supposed to be, don't do it. It's not worth it," said Lederer, a cinematographer from Weymouth. "The last thing we want is anyone getting in trouble."

Charley Valera, a licensed commercial pilot who owns FCA Flight Center at Fitchburg Airport, said he saw what he believed to be a drone flying under him last year during a flight from Long Island.

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Valera estimated the unmanned aircraft was flying at 6,500 feet.

"When you see something fly by you that's not a bird at that altitude, it raises your awareness very quickly," said Valera, who owns a drone and offers a course on using them at his flight school.

He said his drone once got stuck in a tree, showing that the unmanned vehicles can be difficult to maneuver.

"It just goes to show you how quickly it got out of control," Valera said.

Some travelers at Logan Saturday wondered why anyone would fly drones near runways.

"Why are they doing this around the airport?" asked Michelle He, who is from Florida. "I can see how it's dangerous."

Another traveler, Alan Hudson of Vancouver, said drones "need to be stopped."

"If one got into an engine, it would be obliterated," he said. "It's a really bad idea."


Globe correspondent Alexandra Koktsidis contributed to this report. Laura Crimaldi can be reached at laura.crimaldi@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @lauracrimaldi.