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updated: 6/5/2017 10:48 AM

Suburban airport on alert after drone scares

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  • Video: Drones and Air Safety

  • Ground crews found this drone near a runway at Chicago Executive Airport in November, helping to prompt a public awareness campaign by the airport. "Real airplanes and drones do not mix," pilot Rob Mark said.

    Ground crews found this drone near a runway at Chicago Executive Airport in November, helping to prompt a public awareness campaign by the airport. "Real airplanes and drones do not mix," pilot Rob Mark said.
    Courtesy of the Prospect Heights Police Department

  • Bryce Walter, airport operations coordinator, points to where a drone was found near a Chicago Executive Airport runway.

      Bryce Walter, airport operations coordinator, points to where a drone was found near a Chicago Executive Airport runway.
    Bob Chwedyk | Staff Photographer

  • A jet lands at Chicago Executive Airport, which is conducting a public safety campaign about drones.

      A jet lands at Chicago Executive Airport, which is conducting a public safety campaign about drones.
    Bob Chwedyk | Staff Photographer

  • A small aircraft takes off from Chicago Executive Airport, which is conducting a public safety campaign about drones.

      A small aircraft takes off from Chicago Executive Airport, which is conducting a public safety campaign about drones.
    Bob Chwedyk | Staff Photographer

  • Drone restrictions

    Graphic: Drone restrictions (click image to open)

 
 

There's nothing like the thrill of taking your new DJI Phantom 3 or 4 drone out for a spin and vicariously soaring over the suburban landscape.

Except, of course, when it gets too close to a Cessna landing at the local airport.

Don't think such a scenario would never happen. Chicago Executive Airport officials have had two close encounters with unmanned aircraft that prompted a public relations blitz to households near the Wheeling facility.

The first unsettling event occurred in November. During an early morning inspection, ground crews found a downed drone near the runway.

This March, a neighbor alerted airport operators that a drone was being flown next to the airfield, although it had disappeared by the time staff members checked.

"Real airplanes and drones do not mix," said pilot Rob Mark, who handles airport communications. "An accident is just that -- when two things get together when no one expected them to be together."

Hobby drones are proliferating, with the FAA estimating 2.3 million will be purchased this year and 13 million by the end of 2020, The Associated Press reported.

At the same time, sightings of drones near airports or airplanes number more than 100 a month nationwide. In the Chicago area, seven close calls were reported from October through December 2016, according to recent FAA data. Among them was the drone crash Nov. 30 near the Chicago Executive runway.

Chicago Executive has distributed thousands of handouts this year advising hobbyists on flying safely with drones and offers advice on its website at chiexec.com/drones-resources/.

The message is "we don't need to be waiting for some closer call or for an aircraft to run into one of these things with its wing or engine or cockpit," Mark said. "We want people in the community to understand that they're all part of one big aviation community and we have to look out for each other."

The airport's campaign comes as drone regulations are entering a murky phase. A May court ruling threw out a 2015 federal rule requiring recreational drone users to register their machines.

The FAA says it is evaluating the decision and encourages hobbyists to still register.

The issue dates back to a 2012 FAA modernization bill that exempted hobbyists from certain restrictions commercial drone users fall under, explained Brendan Stewart, a co-founder of Park Ridge-based Aero Vista Innovations, which trains public safety and business drone operators.

For the FAA, "it's very difficult for them to impose training requirements for hobbyists," said Stewart, of Waukegan. "Hobbyists still exist in a black hole and it will stay that way" until Congress changes the law.

Commercial drone operator John Pauly of North Aurora thinks "when droning was less popular, I would say this (court ruling) is a great victory. Now when kids or other people crash their drones it will affect the commercial market negatively, and create even more regulations for the professional market."

Meanwhile, drone owner Fred Pfeifer, a photographer and videographer from Arlington Heights, "strongly believes that drone registration will help make it possible to create a culture of safety that deters careless and reckless behavior," he said.

Got an opinion on drones? Drop me an email at mpyke@dailyherald.com.

One more thing

Here are some FAA guidelines for recreational drone users: Fly at or below 400 feet, keep your drone within sight, never fly near other airplanes, particularly near airports, never fly over groups of people, keep away from stadiums or sports events and never fly near emergencies such as fires. To learn more, go to faa.gov/uas/getting_started/fly_for_fun/.

Your voice

Reader Serge Grebenschikov is dubious about the value of an environmental impact study of the Route 53 extension. Such studies are "a joke when it comes to considering public opinion," he wrote. "Even if there are 10,000 people that come to the public meeting and speak out negatively against the project, the consultant still works for the tollway. The consultants want to get more work, so they will do as the client says, especially in a state like Illinois that doesn't have a budget and work is hard to come by."

Fair fares

Children ages 11 and younger can ride free this summer on Metra with a paying adult through Labor Day, the railroad has announced. Metra also sells an $8 pass for adults that offers unlimited choo-choo Saturdays and Sundays.

Gridlock alert

• Sorry, Sugar Grove. Expect delays on Route 56 between County Line Road and west of I-88 for a resurfacing project that involves daily lane closures now through fall.

• Des Plaines can also expect traffic angst with big-time lane closures on Northwest Highway near Broadway Street. IDOT is widening and resurfacing the road; work will last through spring 2018.

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