Drone Safety: Disaster Narrowly Averted As Jumbo Jet Nearly Collides With Imaging Drone Over LAX

The responsible use of recreational drones is becoming a heightened concern as these devices are gaining in popularity among photographers and other hobbyists. Last Friday afternoon things nearly got ugly as the pilot of a Lufthansa passenger jumbo jet reported nearly colliding with a drone while on landing approach to Los Angeles International Airport.

Federal regulations typically ban drones from flying within fives miles of an airport and higher than 400 ft., yet the FAA says they’ve received over 40 rogue drone violations near LAX —the nation’s second-busiest airport—in the past two years. After this latest incident, California’s U.S. Senator Dianne Feinstein said, “This is one more incident that could have brought down an airliner, and it’s completely unacceptable.”

Last summer five recreational drones delayed fire-fighting aircraft from dropping water and fire retardant to extinguish a number of burning cars and 18-wheeler trucks when a massive wildfire jumped a Southern California freeway. The delay in clearing the drones before firefighters could operate threatened lives and turned the freeway into a charred mess that looked more like a war zone than a freeway in a major American city.

In condemning that situation, California officials had this to say: “Fortunately, there were no injuries or fatalities to report, but the 15 to 20 minutes that those helicopters were grounded meant that 15 to 20 minutes were lost that could have led to another water drop cycle, and that would have created a much safer environment and we would not have seen an many citizens running for their lives.”

Bottom line: Drones are fun and enable us to make images that would be impossible to achieve otherwise. However, it’s incumbent upon all of us to be responsible when operating these devices before more lives are threatened and the calls for increased regulation further limit access to this budding technology—especially as photographers and others are pushing for more freedom to use drones, while officials on the national level are discussing more ways to regulate them.