Drones can deliver pizza and packages, but it’s illegal to fly them near aircraft under US law. Yet the Federal Aviation Administration logged 1,274 reports of “possible” drone sightings to air traffic control between February to September of 2016, a 46% increase from the same period the year prior, the agency said last week.
The reports come from pilots, air traffic controllers, law enforcement, and the general public.
The trend may seem scary but the FAA was quick to note that there’s no proof that these unmanned aircraft have caused accidents. “Every investigation has found the reported collisions were either birds, impact with other items such as wires and posts, or structural failure not related to colliding with an unmanned aircraft,” the FAA said.
The culprits (or victims) of collisions are often animals. There were 169,856 reports of civil aircraft hitting animals (pdf) between 1990 and 2015, causing damages and lost revenue of $731 million. Birds accounted for more than 96% of the cases, but a host of other animals including box turtles, bats, and foxes were also struck by aircraft.
Earlier this month, an American Airlines jet struck a deer while taking off from Charlotte, North Carolina, causing the plane to leak fuel. The plane made an emergency landing at the same airport.
While fewer than 10% of the cases of animal strikes logged by the FAA in the 25-year period caused damage, a bird in the engine is nothing to laugh off, because it can disable an engine.
In 1960, an Eastern Airlines jet crashed shortly after takeoff from Boston’s Logan airport, after ingesting a flock of starlings into its engines. Sixty-two of the 72 people aboard were killed.
Perhaps most famously, pilot Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger safely landed a US Air jet on the Hudson River in New York flying into a flock of Canada geese, which damaged the plane’s engines, shortly after leaving LaGuardia Airport. All 155 passengers survived.
Noting that bird strikes are still common, the Associated Press recently reported that 70,000 birds around New York’s airports have been killed since 2009—using guns, pyrotechnics, and traps—all in the name of passenger safety.