Updated on May 31, 2019 at 11:55 a.m. ET
Aeromexico Flight 773 from Guadalajara was just about to land last week when crew members heard a “pretty loud bang,” according to a cabin recording. A mysterious aerial incident had left the nose of the passenger jet badly mangled. By the time it landed safely in Tijuana, there was no confirmed culprit but one likely suspect: a drone.
Months later, a Boeing investigation found that the problem was not a mid-air collision, but likely an improperly installed plane component. DJI, the world's largest drone maker, wrote in a blog post that the event was one of dozens improperly blamed on drones. Still, there remains a very small but growing number of mid-air crashes involving the flying robots.
The potential for tragic accidents—or deliberate attacks—has grown as drones have proliferated among hobbyists and businesses. Just on Thursday, flights at one of London’s biggest airports were suspended after two drones were spotted over its airfield, disrupting flights for tens of thousands of passengers. In the United States, the industry is expanding faster than regulation can contain it. That has left a vacuum, and a burgeoning field of private actors is scrambling to fill it. Though technology does exist to track, divert, or disable rogue drones, those systems are being tested and rolled out slowly, on an ad hoc basis in a handful of locations around the country. There’s still no coherent nationwide system for countering the risk posed by rogue drones, whether their operators are “clueless, careless, or criminal,” as one official put it. Will it take a real catastrophe to put such a system in place?