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Rise in drone hazards irritates pilots, concerns officials

FAA chief Michael Huerta says his agency is concerned with the growing number of drones
FAA chief Michael Huerta says his agency is c... 01:59

Pilots in record numbers are reporting problems with what they describe as buzzing, flying pests.

Not mosquitoes. Drones.

The FAA was asked what is being done about them.

So far this year, pilots have reported drones flying near their aircraft at least 650 times, nearly triple all of 2014.

In June alone there were 138 reports, up from 16 last year. This as demand for hobbyists drones, weighing anywhere between two pounds and more 50 has soared.

Drones being flown too high, or too close to airports are attracting the concern of the FAA. CBS News

Federal aviation administrator Michael Huerta described his level of concern about the number of drones that are up in the air right now.

"The very, very small ones we feel represent much less of a hazard," he said. "We're much more concerned about the higher performance unmanned aircraft, those that are interacting in the airspace with commercial aircraft, with private pilots.

Huerta believes some recreational drone users don't know the rules: Fly below 400 feet and more than five miles from an airport.

Drone Dangers 06:25

And he calls the recent California wildfires a game changer. There have been more than a dozen cases of drones disrupting firefighting efforts.

"If you are flying an unmanned aircraft in a way that is unsafe, we will find you and we will hit you where it hurts," said Huerta. "The penalties are pretty significant. There can be fines up to $25,000 and possibly significant jail time."

But the FAA has issued only five fines since 2011 at least three more are pending. Since owners don't have to register drones, cracking down essentially means catching the operator in the act.

Huerta admitted that finding the operators may be difficult.

"It's not all that easy to do, but it doesn't mean there's any less resolve on our part to do it," he said.

Currently the FAA says currently there is not technology to track a drone, and often they rely on local law enforcement to investigate. One possible solution here would be a software fix that would limit how high a drone could fly and how close it could fly to an airport.

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