- Associated Press - Tuesday, July 5, 2016

KENAI, Alaska (AP) - The Kenai Municipal Airport is taking steps to prevent collisions between drones and airplanes as several close calls have been reported in the past year.

Signs have been posted in public areas near the airport to discourage drone pilots from flying where they may interfere with incoming planes. Kenai’s airport commission is also launching a campaign to bring awareness to the problem, The Peninsula Clarion reported (http://bit.ly/29jHr7e).

Kenai Airport Manager Mary Bondurant said in an email that there have been three incidents of drones flying dangerously close to the airport since 2015.

John Parker, a Kenai-based drone entrepreneur who advised the airport commission on possible hazards of unmanned aerial vehicles in trafficked airspace, described an incident that took place during a parade in November 2015.

“It was dark, and we had somebody flying a UAV right there by the Chamber (Kenai Chamber of Commerce Visitor’s Center), and that’s right by the end of the runway,” Parker said. “Immediately my phone starts ringing. ‘Was that your UAV out there last night?’ Absolutely it was not. My UAV weighs 31 pounds. It could cause tremendous damage.”

Parker’s business, Integrated Robotics Imaging Systems, designs sensor packages for drones used for scientific or engineering purposes. He said drones can cause significant damage to airplanes, despite their small size.

“Most people think because (hobby drones) are small they can’t cause much damage if they run into something,” said Parker. “Typically if you run them into a house or tree or something it breaks the props and they fall on the ground. But in a situation where you enter an airspace where you might encounter an aircraft, it’s not the size of the aircraft or the materials the basic aircraft is made of. The real danger is the batteries in these things. They’re heavy and solid, fairly dense, and they can cause a lot of damage.”

As hobby drones become more advanced, Parker said, problems with collisions between the devices and airplanes could be eliminated. He said drones can come equipped with “geofencing” programming, in which airport boundaries are entered into a locating system along with software that won’t allow a drone to cross those boundaries.

“You can imagine what it took for them to get all these GPS coordinates around these airports all over our country, plus all these other countries they’re doing this in,” Parker said. “So the industry as a whole is really reacting quite well to this.”

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Information from: (Kenai, Alaska) Peninsula Clarion, http://www.peninsulaclarion.com

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