NEW ORLEANS, LA (WVUE) - You hear a lot about drones these days. But what you might not hear about are the near-collisions that have recently happened across the country. In fact, there have been nearly 200 reports of pilots spotting unmanned aircraft flying near them mid-air. And, we've learned some of them have happened right here in New Orleans.
We obtained this list from the Federal Aviation Administration. It details several near-collisions involving drones and manned aircraft that happened across the country last year. Two of them happened in New Orleans.
On July 11, a medical helicopter flying at 2,800 feet reported seeing an unmanned aircraft with red and white lights. It was 4 to 5 feet in diameter, flying just a 100 feet below. Less than four months later, another report of an unmanned aircraft that looked like a small helicopter flying in a plane's traffic pattern. According to the report, that incident happened near an airport runway. That's concerning to one local helicopter pilot we talked to.
"I have heard stories from other pilots, friends of mine, who have been flying and looked out their window and, you know, there's one of these drones within 100 feet of the aircraft. It's very dangerous," said helicopter pilot Robert Whittaker.
Whittaker says the number of reports on the FAA list is scary especially when you consider the damage a small bird could do.
"I'm sure they weigh more than a bird and they're stronger than a bird. It could easily cause that helicopter to crash," Whittaker said.
Right now, the FAA is taking a closer look at commercial drone use. If you want to use a drone for business, you have to get a permit. But when it comes to recreational use, anyone can fly a drone. You don't need a license or permission from the FAA as long as you follow these rules: You can't fly higher than 400 feet, or within 5 miles of an airport unless you notify air traffic control and the airport. You also have to keep the drone within your line of sight and make way for any manned aircraft.
But the FAA list obtained by FOX 8 News is raising serious questions about whether those rules are being followed. And, with more and more drones out there these days, Whittaker fears it's only a matter of time before someone is hurt or even worse.
"It's just lucky there's no deaths on those lists, really," he said.