Close encounters with drones by pilots, air traffic controllers and others have “increased dramatically since 2014,” according to the latest data released by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA).

The incidents reported in the most recent compilation, which runs from August 22, 2015 through January 31, 2016, includes drones flying near planes and helicopters – sometimes as close as 100 feet -- and mostly near airports.

A drone with a laser attached

In one particularly disturbing incident, a pilot flying near Rockwall, Texas saw a green laser light – something which can temporarily blind aircraft operators when seen through the plexiglass window of a cockpit.  A police investigation determined that the laser was likely attached to a drone that departed from a boat on a nearby lake.

In a more typical scenario, a drone flew 300 feet below a plane that was descending to an airport in Atlanta. The information was reported to the local sheriff’s department for investigation.

Drones capable of flying high. In a Tulsa, Oklahoma incident, a drone that was “as big as a pizza box” was operating at 3200 feet – 200 feet below the alarmed pilot who reported it.

Sending a message

The FAA said it wants to send a clear message that operating drones around airplanes and helicopters is dangerous and illegal.

"We have a number of educational initiatives with our government and industry partners to teach drone operators how to fly safely, including the drone registry we launched last December," said FAA Administrator Michael Huerta. “But enforcement goes hand-in-hand with education, and we will take action against anyone who operates irresponsibly to the full extent of the law.”

The FAA wants operators to know where it's legal to fly their drone. More than 406,000 people have registered since the registry went live in late December.

Get the app

For current information on where unmanned aircraft can be flown safely, the FAA offers the B4UFLY app that is available for iOS and Android smartphones. The app is free and can be downloaded from iTunes and Google Play. Unauthorized operators may be subject to stiff fines and criminal charges, including possible jail time.

View additional information, including the latest and previous UAS sighting reports.