Seven U.S. Air Force drones have crashed at civilian airports in the past two years, The Washington Post reported Friday, raising questions about the safety of the unmanned surveillance planes as the administration seeks to expand their use both domestically and abroad.
Five of the crashes took place in Djibouti, and two in the Seychelles Islands, according to the Post report. All of the drones were being remotely piloted by contractors when they crashed.
Drones have become a centerpiece of the war on terrorism. Hundreds of suspected militants linked to al-Qaida and Haqqani have been killed by U.S. drones, and the CIA has proposed a significant expansion of the drone program that would allow the agency to increase strikes in Pakistan and Yemen as well as shift aircraft to hotspots such as North Africa, the Post reported in October. Africa-based drones are also used to combat sea piracy.
At the same time, Congress has directed the Federal Aviation Administration to develop safety regulations so pilotless drones can share U.S. skies with manned aircraft by 2015.
Air Force investigation reports obtained by the Post "repeatedly cited … pilot error, mechanical failure, software bugs in the 'brains' of the aircraft and poor coordination with civilian air-traffic controllers."
The Djibouti crashes, as well as incidents where the drones delayed civilian air traffic, caused "backlash and repercussions" in the community, an on-site Air Force officer told investigators.