BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (WBRC) - Millions of travelers are masking up and getting on a plane to travel for Thanksgiving. While you’re looking forward to seeing a glimpse of home out of the plane window as you land, what you don’t want to see is a drone hovering in your plane’s flight path.
Our WBRC FOX6 News investigation found pilots in Alabama have reported near-misses with drones more than 70 times in the last couple of years.
“As harmless as they may look, if they do impact an aircraft there could be serious damage,” warns J-P Dice, WBRC Fox 6′s Chief Meteorologist and a Certified Flight Instructor. “There could be airframe damage, you could knock out a windshield, you could destroy an engine, a lot of things and a lot of bad things could happen.”
A drone hit a Blackhawk over a New York neighborhood in 2017, forcing the 82nd airborne pilot to land with damaged blades and airframe.
“If folks are following the FAA regulations, everyone’s going to be ok, but as we always know, not everyone’s gonna follow the rules,” warns Dice.
So how many close calls are we seeing above Alabama’s skies? We searched the FAA’s database, and between the beginning of 2016 and the most recent report in the middle of this year, we found 20 close calls with drones or remote-controlled aircraft reported by pilots: 18 in Birmingham, and 1 each in Bessemer and Cullman.
Perhaps the closest call was on July 28, 2019 when the pilot of a Piper Cherokee had to take evasive action to miss a black and orange drone about the size of a hawk hovering at around 5500 feet aloft about 13 miles NE of the Birmingham Shuttlesworth International Airport.
Many of the reports of close calls with drones from pilots in Birmingham came as the planes were on final approach to land. That’s when Dice says these potential collisions could prove the most dangerous.
“You look out the window, a lot of times you could be coming and it’s cloudy, or instrument conditions, it could be night, but these are really small aircraft, the drones, so they’re going to be difficult to see, and by the time you see them it’s too late.”
Here’s the database we compiled of the FAA reports from 2016-now: