The commercial drone industry could be torpedoed if there was a serious accident involving a drone and a commercial aircraft, the chairman of the US House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee warned.
Representative Peter DeFazio, a Democrat, said in Washington regulators have to take the threat seriously.
“This is really serious when these things are flying around and it could kill the commercial drone industry,” DeFazio said, adding if a toy drone “takes down a plane” there would be public outcry to ground the devices.
The issue of threats by drones to commercial air traffic came to the fore after London’s second busiest airport, Gatwick Airport, was severely disrupted in December when drones were sighted on three consecutive days.
Last month, 43 flights into New Jersey’s Newark Liberty International Airport were required to hold after drone sightings at a nearby airport, while nine flights were diverted.
In January, US Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao proposed rules to allow drones to operate over populated areas help speed commercial use.
There are nearly 1.3 million registered drones in the United States and more than 116,000 registered drone operators. Officials say there are thousands of additional drones not registered.
DeFazio added government should facilitate growth of the drone industry, because benefits are “potentially phenomenal.”
“We’re worried about the two million people who bought or got toy drones for Christmas the last couple of years and are regularly flying in violation of the law,” DeFazio said.
Last week, the FBI said authorities confiscated six drones violating a temporary order not to fly the devices in the area ahead of the NFL Super Bowl.
Alphabet Inc and Amazon.com Inc are among a growing number of companies hoping to make package delivery by drone a reality.
The Federal Aviation Administration is working on rules to set remote identification requirements for drones for tracking purposes.
The FAA noted last month some drones can fly at 10,000 feet or more and accelerate from zero to 60 miles per hour in less than a second. It is assessing “possible performance limitations, such as airspeed and altitude, to mitigate potential hazards.”
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Congress last year gave the Department of Justice and Department of Homeland Security new powers to disable or destroy threatening drones after officials raised concerns about the use of drones as potential weapons.
“We’re not certain yet what the best technology is,” DeFazio said. “We’ve got to get a handle on those who are operating improperly and then we have to facilitate the growth of the commercial drone industry itself, because benefits are potentially phenomenal.”