This Airport Wants to Use Bird-Shaped Drones to Prevent Plane Crashes

The argument against drones is an air traffic safety one—what happens when they're used to keep pilots safe?

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Aug 26 2014, 5:55pm

Image:  ClearFlightSolutions

The main argument against drones, at this point, is a safety one: What happens if a drone crashes into a plane? Well now, at least one airport is looking at using drones as a means of protecting planes that land and take off from its runways.

Drones, it turns out, can scare birds away from airports, where they pose a threat to planes. My colleague Becky Ferreira  took a deep dive into the technology behind "raptor drones" earlier this month, and now it appears at least one US airport is considering using the technology (or other drone technology) to protect planes.

Westchester County Airport has had seven bird strikes so far this year, and 338 since 2008, according  to the Journal News, and CBS is reporting that the airport is now looking into using "radio-controlled drones or fake predator birds to drive birds away from airspace."

It makes sense—the only issue, now, is what the Federal Aviation Administration will think of it. The FAA has  repeatedly suggested that drones are a manned plane's worst enemy, which is part of the reason it's taken the agency so long to implement commercial drones in the public airspace. 

It's also one of the reasons why the agency has cracked down on hobby use of drones. The FAA has been clear: No commercial use of drones (unless  you're a major oil company) is approved by the agency, and use of raptor drones would certainly be a "commercial" use.

Whenever the FAA goes after a commercial drone operator, it does so under the guise of drones being a threat to "safety" and a threat to air traffic. Well, the airport says it can keep pilots safe from bird strikes with the limited use of raptor drones, what's the FAA going to say then?