Confusion about small drone rules is creating dangerous conditions around airports, a federal aviation official warned Wednesday.
Pilot complaints about small drones have jumped since a judge threw out a case earlier this year where a drone operator was fined for operating unsafely, Jim Williams, who manages the Federal Aviation Administration's unmanned aircraft program, told a conference Wednesday in Grand Forks.
"Pilots are calling up air traffic control and reporting that on their approach to the airport, or their departure from the airport, they saw an unmanned aircraft closer than they were comfortable with to the airport," he said.
Many of those close calls involve drone pilots flying while wearing goggles that let them see streaming video from the aircraft, but the goggles don't let pilots see where they are, said Williams, who compared the view to looking through a straw.
New rules for drone operation are expected early next year. The FAA wants companies that sell small drones to do a better job of educating pilots about safety. In the past, he said model aircraft pilots learned to fly safely in clubs.
"The problem is now you can go on Amazon and order a fully functional aircraft that comes out of the box ready to go," he said. "You don't have that community, that teaching, that understanding, that attachment to the aircraft that would help you be a safe modeler."