Hero pilot endorses drone geo-fencing bill

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The pilot who landed a disabled jetliner safely on the Hudson River in New York City in 2009 is endorsing a Democratic Senate bill to require drone manufacturers to include geo-fencing technology that would prohibit devices from flying over restricted areas. 

“The huge upsurge in the numbers of drones and of reckless actions by drone users has greatly increased the risk to everyone who flies,” former U.S. Airways pilot Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger said in a statement endorsing the measure, which has been dubbed the “Consumer Drone Safety Act.” 

“As a pilot, safety expert and accident investigator, I have seen firsthand the damage that a collision with objects this size can do to an airplane, and this increased risk of collision is one of the top concerns of professional pilots,” Sullenberger continued. “The explosion in reports of drones being flown dangerously close to airports and airplanes, and at alarmingly high altitudes means we must act now to protect the public. These essential safety measures are desperately needed to address this critical safety issue and must be included in the FAA reauthorization bill.”

Sullenberger has been in the national spotlight recently since his daring 2009 emergency landing, which became necessary when the jets of a U.S. Airways flight he was piloting became disabled after birds flew into its engines. 

The sponsors of the drone geo-fencing legislation, Sens. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) and Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.), touted the endorsement from Sullenberger, who has remained popular despite his retirement from the now-defunct U.S. Airways, which merged with American Airlines in 2013.

The duo cited a report from the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) that showed that there have been 900 drone incidents reported between April 1, 2014 and Aug. 20, 2015. 

“It’s clear that reckless consumer drone use is increasing. With the number of consumer drones projected to top 1 million this year, the problem will only grow,” Feinstein said in a statement. “The data released by the FAA indicate that 75 percent of incidents involved a drone that climbed to a dangerously high altitude. 

“The Consumer Drone Safety Act would address that problem by requiring safety information be distributed to consumers and technological safeguards be installed in the devices,” she continued. “I am hopeful that when Congress reauthorizes the FAA in March, the basic safeguards from our bill will be included to help prevent a tragic accident.”

Schumer agreed, adding that “near-misses between drones and passenger airliners, and other dangerous situations caused by drones, are spiking and we must act now before a real tragedy occurs.

“The Consumer Drone Safety Act would require drone manufacturers to install safety features that help prevent dangerous situations and near-misses from occurring,” Schumer said. “In addition, our bill would advance technologies focused on detecting, identifying and cracking down on dangerous drone use. Drone technology has the potential to be truly positive and transformative, and many users operate them safely, but when it comes to protecting our skies and the traveling public, we can leave no stone unturned.”

Sullenberger, who is now a CBS News contributor, predicted earlier this year that nonmilitary drones will cause plane crashes as they become more prevalent in commercial airspace.

“We have seen what a six-pound or an eight-pound bird can do to bring down an airplane. Imagine what a device containing hard parts like batteries and motors can do that might weigh 25 or possibly up to 55 pounds to bring down an airplane,” Sullenberger said during an appearance on Sunday on CBS’s “Face The Nation” in March. 

The FAA is developing regulations for allowing commercial drones that weigh less than 55 pounds to be flown in the U.S., and the agency said this week that is moving to require registrations for recreational users of the devices. 

The FAA has faced tremendous pressure to approve a rapid 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.

Tags Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger Chuck Schumer Dianne Feinstein Drone FAA drone rules Federal Aviation Administration

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