North Texas

Pilots Say Drones Are Threat to Medical Helicopters

Medical helicopter pilots are concerned that drones could cause problems for emergency calls.

Gary Colecchi is a helicopter pilot for Cook Children's Medical Center in Fort Worth. Just like many pilots, he has a lot of concerns about drones flying near his helicopter.

"We fly with a single pilot," said Colecchi. “If a drone takes me out, it's pretty much going to be catastrophic."

Last July that could have happened. A medical helicopter pilot spotted a drone flying around the helipad at Cook Children's Medical Center. The helicopter was grounded for about 45 minutes until the airspace was clear.

"If I'm going to a location and there is a patient and there's a drone in the area, I will abort the landing and probably return to base," said Colecchi.

Colecchi has never had to make that call. But it's only a matter of time with the growing trend of people using drones.

"The stress is always there no matter what we're doing," said Colecchi. "Drones are an increasing problem that we're seeing every day now."

Reported drone encounters have tripled over the last year. So far in 2015, the Federal Aviation Administration reports there were more than 700 manned aircraft and drone encounters nationwide. In 2014, there were only 238.

The FAA is planning to require owners to register their drone. The administration expects about 700,000 drones to be sold between now and the end of the holiday season.

"Drones are here and they're here to stay," said Colecchi. "We have to adapt, we have to learn to share the air space, rules and regulations, and everybody can have fun. I can fly my patient safely and they can have fun."

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