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Mass Live: U.S. Sen. Ed Markey asks FAA about drones hovering near airports in Massachusetts

Citing safety and security concerns, U.S. Sen. Ed Markey called on the Federal Aviation Administration to provide information on what the agency is doing to reduce the risks of drones colliding with airplanes.

The FAA is finalizing rules for large commercial drones.

In a letter to FAA administrator Michael Huerta, Markey, D-Mass., said this week there have been a number of drone sightings between Nov. 2014 and Aug. 2015 near Massachusetts airports, including Logan International Airport.

On New Year’s Day this year, a plane spotted a drone a mile from Logan, 700 feet in the air, Markey added.

“All it takes is one drone to fly into the path of one passenger jet and a disaster can ensue,” Markey wrote, pressing the agency to educate drone operators. “We must take action before a catastrophe like this happens.”

About 700,000 hobbyist drones were sold in the U.S. in 2015, a potential “ever-increasing danger in our skies,” wrote Markey, a member of the Senate subcommittee on aviation operators, safety and security.

Drones cannot be flown within a five-mile radius of an airport, and have a air height limit of 400 feet.

“While there are many beneficial uses for drones, including spotting wildfires, examining crops, and maritime search and rescue, those benefits cannot come at the expense of safety,” Markey said.

Markey laid out a series of questions for the agency in his letter. They included:

How many drone sightings within five miles of any Massachusetts airport have been reported to the FAA in 2016? How many in 2014 and 2015?

How does the FAA educate drone operators?

Does the agency require drone manufacturers and sellers to post safety guidelines on their websites?

Has the agency issued warnings or civil penalties for potential violations in Massachusetts?

“Is the FAA exploring technological solutions to prevent drone collisions and improve safety in sensitive airspace?” he asked. “If so, please detail what technologies are being explored, how these technologies could improve aviation safety, and when these technologies may become available.”

Markey asked for the agency to respond to his questions by Feb. 29.