Gatwick, Heathrow, Newark, Dubai – Each of these airports has been in the news recently when flights were halted or delayed by sightings of what were believed to be drones in the area. So how big a threat is this? Are drones a danger to manned aircraft?

Headlines like “Drone Scare Near New York City Shows Hazard Posed to Air Travel” have been all over popular media in the past few weeks. It is true that drones are proliferating rapidly. With 1.3 million drones now registered with the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), up from about 470,000 in 2016 when drone registration was first required, anyone can see that there are more drones in the air than ever before. While a small percentage of these drones are operated for commercial purposes by FAA-certified remote pilots, the vast majority are operated by hobbyists for fun and recreation. Hobbyist pilots are required to fly under the safety guidance of a model aircraft organization, like the Academy of Model Aeronautics (AMA), and they have to keep their drones in sight, below 400 feet, and out of airspace meant for passenger-carrying airplanes. Commercial drone pilots have to know and abide by similar rules, but unlike hobbyists, they have to take an FAA test to prove it.

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