A Seattle man was sentenced to 30 days in jail on Friday after a drone he was operating injured two people during the city’s 2015 Pride Parade. Paul M. Skinner was found guilty of reckless endangerment in the incident, which left one woman unconscious.
It was the first time the City of Seattle had charged somebody over the use of a drone in public space, but it likely won’t be the last. Drone usage is increasing steadily, and according to a new FAA report, so is the number of possible accidents.
During the last fiscal year, the FAA was notified more than 1,200 times about possible collisions with drones and aircraft, That’s up from 874 reports in 2015.
Washington state alone saw 19 incidents between July and September. In August last year, firefighters battling a blaze in Washington’s Olympic National Park had to stop air support for an entire day due to a drone. In July, a small plane had to make an evasive maneuver to avoid a drone near the Space Needle. That’s separate from the incident where a drone crashed into the Space Needle last month.
There have also been several unconfirmed reports of a drone striking an aircraft, including an incident last August in San Jose, Calif., where a Cessna pilot reported damage to his plane.
While the FAA has been unable to confirm any strikes, they have reported several near misses. In March last year, a Lufthansa jet approaching Los Angeles reported that a drone passed within 200 feet of the aircraft.
If a collision between a drone and aircraft is confirmed, that could deal a setback for Amazon and other companies that are seeking to use drones for deliveries. The FAA is currently considering regulations for flying drones beyond an operator’s line of sight, which is regarded as a requirement for drone deliveries.
To head off collisions, companies such as Microsoft and Airbus are looking at ways to improve safety in the skies. Last week, Microsoft’s venture arm led a funding round for the startup AirMap, which builds a map of real-time airspace for drone pilots.
Meanwhile, the FAA said they will continue to ramp up their efforts to combat illegal drone usage.
“Safely integrating unmanned aircraft into the national airspace system is one of the FAA’s top priorities, and the agency wants to send a clear message that operating drones around airplanes and helicopters is dangerous and illegal,” the FAA said in a post about the report. “Unauthorized operators may be subject to stiff fines and criminal charges, including possible jail time.”
Seattle city officials also crack down on drone operators who cross the line into illegality. After Friday’s sentencing, which is likely to be appealed, City Attorney Pete Holmes told The Seattle Times he was proud of the results of the case.
“Operators should know that we will continue to go after them when they disregard public safety,” Holmes said.