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PHOENIX -- Radio Television Digital News Association Executive Director Mike Cavender said the recent revelation that a U.S. airliner nearly collided with a drone over Florida earlier this year is adding urgency to the need for the FAA to move on developing operating rules for commercial drones.

Such policies are expected, in initial form, late this year and are more than seven years in the making. Final rules won't likely come for several more years.

The FAA said the near-miss occurred last March, about 2,300 feet above ground near the Tallahassee Regional Airport. The pilot said he was so close to the drone that he thought the two aircraft collided, but no damage was found to the airplane. It's still unclear whether the operator of the drone was government or civilian.

Cavender said in a press release that more operators have chosen to ignore the FAA's admonition that drones not be used commercially until rules are issued. This is increasingly true among those who fly drones and provide news footage to broadcast outlets.

Jim Tilmon of Scottsdale was a pilot with American Airlines for 29 years and shared Cavender's concern.

"They're a major threat. A collision with a drone would not be the best part of your day," Tilmon said. "You can't just brush it off and say it's only a drone. It's not like a model airplane, it's an aircraft. And all aircraft over this nation need to deal with some form of regulation and control. The technology got ahead of the regulation."

Tilmon said bird strikes on airliners have always been a problem but for something mechanical such as a drone with its own propulsion, nobody can predict how much damage would be inflicted if a drone collided with a commercial jet.

"We're looking at a problem that hasn't come into its own yet. But that (drone use) is going to increase very rapidly and it's time to get on the pony and get regulations squared away before we have an actual event."

Jim Cross, Reporter

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