A Washington Post report says that just as the FAA is under pressure to integrate unmanned aircraft into the National Airspace System, the Air Force's drone safety record has taken a tumble. The Post says there have been at least seven Reaper and Predator crashes at or near civilian airports overseas in the last two years and while they're haven't been any casualties there have been some close calls. For instance, a Predator drone carrying a Hellfire missile missed the airport in Djibouti City in eastern Africa by almost three miles in May of 2011 and crashed in a residential area. The weapon did not detonate and there were no injuries.
Djibouti City has been the unintended target of at least five drone failures in the last couple of years, including a Predator that spun in vertically about a half mile offshore after suffering a mechanical failure. Air Force drones are busy at the local airport heading to and from spy missions to Yemen and Somalia. Many of the crashes have happened while civilian contractors were at the controls. The Air Force told the Post that it's getting a handle on the safety issues and compared the drone safety record to that of the early deployment of the F-16. As we reported last week, the FAA has put off integration of drones, citing privacy concerns.