Dem senator to feds: Stop 'close calls' between planes and drones

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Sen. Richard BlumenthalRichard BlumenthalDem senator's daughter could face Congress over EpiPen price hike Airlines brace for boost in travel volumes over Labor Day Will Obama protect the Atlantic’s Grand Canyons? MORE (D-Conn.) is pushing the Federal Aviation Administration to take "aggressive action" to prevent potential collisions between commercial airplanes and drones. 

Blumenthal said the FAA should act swiftly after an increase in the number of sightings that have been reported by pilots. 

"Numerous recent news stories have detailed the growing capability of ordinary citizens to launch and pilot sophisticated, sizeable devices that have flown into prohibited airspace, threatened privacy and peace of mind, and posed a serious risk to air travel," he wrote in a letter to FAA Administrator Michael Huerta.  

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"I call on the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) to take aggressive action to protect everyone who relies on safe and secure skies," Blumenthal continued. 

The FAA reported recently that pilots have reported spotting more than 650 drones in the first seven months of 2015, compared to 238 sightings in all of last year.

Bluemnthal said the figures should spur the FAA to crack down on unauthorized drone use. 

"The FAA has authority to pursue civil and criminal penalties against those who endanger the safety of the national airspace, and it is clear that a growing number of dangerous drone operators fail to operate their devices with the necessary due care or knowledge of safe flying practices we must demand," he wrote. "It is incumbent on your agency to use your enforcement powers to stop activity that could result in the horror and havoc of a downed passenger plane or similar tragedy." 

The FAA is in the process of developing regulations for allowing a rapid expansion of the use of commercial drones in the U.S.

The agency has faced tremendous pressure to approve such an expansion of nonmilitary drone use from companies such as Amazon, who have said the technology can be used to make speedier online deliveries. 

Police and other law enforcement groups were also seeking approval to use the technology, and the FAA has investigated several drone incidents that occurred in conjunction with photography at college and professional sporting events.

The FAA’s proposed rules define small drones as devices that weigh less than 55 pounds and require them to be operated at heights that are less than 500 feet and speeds that are less than 100 miles per hour.

The regulations also call for drone flights to be limited to daytime hours and conducted only by U.S. residents who are older than 17. Drone operators are also prohibited under the FAA proposal from conducting flights that take the devices out of their line of vision, which was a big blow to companies that have touted the possibility of using the technology to conduct deliveries. 

The rules make drone operators responsible for avoiding collisions with manned aircraft that are in the same airspace as the devices, and they prohibit drone flights that “fly over people, except those directly involved with the flight.”