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NYC travelers' group pushes drone safety measures, tougher penalties for use near airports

Responding to a spate of drone sightings near metropolitan area airports, a travelers' advocacy group is proposing ways to reduce the chance of midair collisions with commercial jetliners.

The Global Gateway Alliance, in a report to be released Thursday, proposes some high-tech solutions, such as requiring drones to have built-in software that prevents them from getting too close to airports and black box technology that records their movements.

"When it comes to our airports, safety has to come first. And it defies reason that unmanned aircrafts are putting the lives of thousands of passengers in danger without clear consequences," said Alliance chairman and founder Joe Sitt in a statement.

Other recommendations: stricter enforcement by the Federal Aviation Administration and harsher penalties for violating "no-fly zones," and training for drone operators that includes "a full understanding of airspace and airport operations."

The FAA is considering a proposed rule to regulate drone use, which should be finalized in mid-2016.

The Manhattan-based Alliance also advocates increased monitoring of drones by air traffic controllers and public education efforts "on the dangers and penalties of flying drones nearby" in communities near airports where close encounters have been reported.

Since July 31, the FAA has received reports of at least eight separate drone sightings by commercial aircraft in the region, the group said. None of the pilots had to take evasive action, and no injuries were reported.

Most recently, on Sunday, four different airline crews reported seeing a drone while on approach to Newark Liberty International Airport.

The FAA said Wednesday that pilot reports of drone sightings have jumped from 238 in 2014 to more than 650 as of Sunday.

The FAA prohibits drones from flying higher than 400 feet or within five miles of an airport.

On July 31, a Delta pilot was flying into Kennedy Airport at about 1,400 feet when he told the control tower he had spotted a drone about 100 feet below the plane, off the right wing.

"Drones are a seriously dangerous issue, and it's increasing in frequency in this tight airspace. New York City is a very, very tight airspace -- it's the most cramped airspace in the United States," said Phil Derner, founder of, an aviation news and consulting organization.

"It's not a matter of if but when a drone will hit these aircraft," he said. "To me, it's the biggest safety threat in the U.S. and aviation these days."

A drone could shatter an airplane's windshield on impact, Derner said, or get sucked into a jet engine putting crew and passengers in peril.

Guy Haggard, a board-certified aviation attorney based in Florida, believes drone operators are becoming more aware of the rules and regulations and following them.

"I think the word is getting out," he said.

Haggard said some drones now come equipped with GPS chips that won't allow them to enter no-fly zones, including airport air spaces.

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