There’s an irony to the fact that the newest threat to airliner safety was created by man but operates unmanned.

Drones have been around for decades and have proven to be valuable assets on the battlefield, in border patrol and surveillance, in fire-fighting and in humanitarian operations. Operators of these unmanned aerial vehicles are responsible people. They typically do not operate their UAVs near commercial airports or in commercial airspace lanes and even when they do, they operate within the law.

The same cannot be said of all owners of the types of small, personal drones that are now proliferating at an alarming rate and which are the cause of the vast majority of near-miss incidents being reported by airline pilots. In the US alone, the number of reported drone sightings by commercial pilots in the first seven months of this year was more than double those reported through all of last year. Tragically, at some point it won’t be a “near miss” in the headlines, but a collision.

Regulatory bodies and lawmakers must work together to raise public awareness of the danger that drones can pose to airliners and also to significantly increase financial and jail penalties for non-compliance.

UAV makers can be part of the solution and should be involved in the discussion, decisions and new rule-making. Critically, however, the onus on operating safely must lie with the UAV operator – not with the airline. If that involves mandating drones are equipped with TCAS or other avoidance systems, making them more expensive, then that’s a cost and a choice for drone owners to bear. Similarly, any new test and certification processes, such as assessing the results of an impact of small drones on an aircraft or engine, should be borne by the UAV makers (and perhaps passed on to the operators).

Better still, however, the immediate focus should be on keeping these small personal drones outside of airspace surrounding commercial airports. That’s where the real threat lies. Again, this is not a burden to be hoisted on the airlines or airports. It is a government responsibility to ensure safe airspace for commercial airliners. Countries everywhere – and certainly in Europe and North America where the problem is growing fastest – must prioritize how they improve their monitoring for UAVs around airports, capture them and bring lawbreakers to justice.

The other irony of drones is that they are not “unmanned,", simply “remotely piloted." Every drone that slips into the path of an airliner has a human behind that action. Whether that action is accidental or intentional, we need to fix the question of how to take that human out of the airspace loop and into a small space behind bars.