Evolving technologies are not only overwhelming our legal and ethical systems, they might also endanger aviation safety. At least, that’s a concern raised by MUFON research director Robert Powell. Here’s the deal:
Powell recently compared two Texas UFO incidents from the evening of Sept. 19, 2011. The first occurred in the vicinity of the Dallas-Fort airport, and the second emanated from Austin, some 190 miles south. The sightings were 90 minutes apart, and what impressed him were the detailed quality and consistency of the witness reports, “one from an ex-military man familiar with military aircraft and one from a practicing engineer.”
The Austin observer reported 10-12 triangular shaped, tannish UFOs flying in wingtip formation. He initially thought they were birds, but decided against it because they were moving too fast. The objects roughly matched the Dallas-Fort Worth sighting; assuming they were the same things, that clocked their estimated speed at between 207 and 253 mph.
The problem: They were illuminated solely by a diffusion of ground light as they traveled from north to south.
“What bothers me is, if these are drones, they’re flying into civilian air space without navigational lights,” Powell says. “So far as I’ve been able to tell, there aren’t any procedures in place that address this issue.”
At the FAA regional headquarters in Atlanta, Kathleen Bergen in media relations states in an email that “All aircraft are required to have lights when operating at night unless they have applied for and received an exemption from the applicable regulations. We cannot confirm whether any specific operator has an exemption.”
Those exemptions are broadly addressed, somewhat, in a 2010 press release that provides a glimpse into the enormity of the drone issue and its attendant explosion of acronyms. The FAA categorizes drones as Unmanned Aircraft Systems, or UAS, and has created the Unmaned Aircraft Program Office (UAPO) and the Air Traffic Organization (ATO) to deal with them. “As if December 1, 2010,” it stated, “there were 273 active COAs. The agency has issued COAs in 2010 to 95 users on 72 different aircraft types.”