Government Calls Drones Big Problem

Law enforcement agencies fear more encounters with drones in the skies as they are bigticket items for Christmas

One of this year's hottest holiday gifts could be one of next year's biggest dangers — drones.

Now the government is calling this a big problem.

One Federal Aviation official estimates up to a million drones will be sold this holiday season.

From the Cajon Pass Fire in July where drones caused firefighting aircraft to be grounded, to an arrest in Hollywood in August for flying a drone near a police helicopter, "this is a big concern to us," said FAA spokesman Ian Gregor.

"We have seen over the past year or so a really significant increase in the number of incidents where pilots have reported seeing drones flying in their general vicinity," he said.

The US Forest Service depends on aerial drops to keep fires from spreading to homes and roads.

When fire raged through the Cajon Pass and torched multiple vehicles, firefighting aircraft had to be grounded because drones were spotted in the area.

"We are literally talking about life-and-death situations here," said Tom Harbor, the national director of fire and aviation management at the US Forest Service.

Harbor said drones are not only dangerous to the pilots, but they also take away a key tool for fighting fires.

"It literally is fighting the fire with one hand tied behind out back," he said.

Malcolm Croxton watched the Cajon Pass fire as it engulfed a classic jaguar he had purchased.

"I actually saw my car on the back of the carrier burning, said Croxton, a retired aviation mechanic, who worked on military jets and knows the damage a drone can cause to an engine.

"A drone flying in it could cause it to become a bomb," he said.

The I-Team obtained a database from the FAA showing the number of times pilots have encounter drones near their aircraft. Over a 10-month period ending in August there were 762 encounters nationwide. California had 170, almost double the next highest state.

"What's unique to California is that we have a lot of airports, busy airports, in the middle of very dense urban areas," Gregor said.

Los Angeles had 38 encounters, more than the individual totals for most states.

Croxton wonders what could have happened if drones didn't ground the aircraft trying to get water to his car.

"I think if they could have dropped a bit more water on there maybe they wouldn't be so badly damaged," he said.

He said water drops happened a little to late.

The FAA created a task force that has just recommended all medium and large drones should be registered. That way if there is an incident they can be traced to their owner. It could be months before that happens.

Here is the FAA list of the top 10 states:

  • California - 170
  • Florida - 93
  • New York - 80
  • Texas - 39
  • Washington - 31
  • New Jersey - 28
  • Massachusetts - 28
  • Illinois - 24
  • Arizona - 23
  • Pennsylvania - 20

The reports cover November 13, 2014 through August 20, 2015.

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