GENEVA (Reuters) - The surging popularity of inexpensive radio-controlled airplanes and helicopters raises risks that require a firm response from regulators to ensure safety, the head of a leading commercial aviation trade group told Reuters.
“I’m not one who often calls for regulation,” Tony Tyler, director general of the International Air Transport Association, said in an interview on the sidelines of the organisation’s global media day.
“But this is a new industry and it will have to share airspace with an existing established industry. With safety issues that it raises, there is a need for regulators to grasp this one and run with it,” he said.
Tyler’s concern comes amid growing reports of dangerous drone flights at airports, stadiums and military bases in the United States and elsewhere. The U.S. Federal Aviation Administration recently documented more than 190 close calls in 2014, including instances of drones flying within 50 feet (15 metres) of jetliners landing in New York and other cities.
The FAA is due to publish draft regulations on drones later this month, and experts said they predict the rules will put restrictions on risky recreational fliers. The rules are part of the FAA’s effort to integrate unmanned aircraft into the U.S. airspace by September 2015.
Tyler, whose organisation works with 250 airlines and freight carriers in 117 countries, said the new rules cannot come too son.
Drone regulations currently vary widely in different countries, with an effective ban on commercial uses in the United States in all but a few cases. But the unmanned aircraft industry is expected to generate thousands of jobs and billions of dollars of economic activity, as companies use them for everything from inspecting power lines and crops to delivering packages.
“Drones are an emerging issue,” Tyler said. “As they grow in number and sophistication, they need to be integrated properly in the airspace. Regulators have to get involved here.”
Reporting by Victoria Bryan and Tim Hepher; Writing by Alwyn Scott; Editing by Jonathan Oatis