Cue the heavy drums and eerie science-fiction score. It looks like drones have already made their way to New York City skies, according to a CNN report.
The pilot of an Alitalia passenger jet heading in to John F. Kennedy Airport for landing yesterday afternoon reported sighting a small unmanned aircraft flying near JKF, according to the report.* The report indicates that the drone came within a few hundred feet of the jet, but luckily didn’t interfere with its landing.
It makes it a little less spooky that the aircraft wasn’t one of those large fixed-winged drones that the U.S. uses to execute bombing strikes in countries such as Afghanistan and Pakistan.
But it’s still pretty damn spooky that the specter of unmanned drones patrolling U.S. skies is no longer a feared possibility but an impending reality. As we’ve reported, the NYPD is now openly flirting with the idea of bringing unmanned aircraft surveillance to the city. Most importantly, President Barack Obama signed the Federal Aviation Authority Modernization and Reform Act of 2012 last month, which is a bill that outlines plans for 30,000 non-military drones to hit U.S skies by 2020.
The details surrounding yesterday’s alleged drone spotting are still murky. Other pilots coming in for landings were notified of the unmanned aircraft sighting, and it appears that two of them reported that they had not spotted it, CNN reports. The FAA and the FBI are investigating the incident.
Here are a few more details from the CNN report:
“The FAA is investigating a report … he saw a small, unmanned or remote-controlled aircraft while on final approach to Runway 31 Right,” according a statement sent to CNN by FAA spokeswoman Laura Brown. “The sighting was approximately four to five miles west of the airport at an altitude of approximately 1,500 feet,” she said…
The Alitalia aircraft did not have to take any evasive action and landed safely at JFK.
Air traffic controllers warned other planes approaching the runway of the drone report, but at least two other pilots radioed they did not see it.
A spokesman for the New York Police Department was not aware of the incident and the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, which operates the airport, referred CNN to the FAA.
Unmanned aerial systems, sometimes called drones, and other remote-controlled planes could pose a risk to larger passenger aircraft if they collided or were sucked into an engine.
For recreational hobbyists, flying remote-controlled planes is only allowed by the FAA up to 400 feet in the air, and within sight of the operator. If they are going to fly within three miles of an airport, they have to let air traffic controllers know.
Flying unmanned aerial vehicles is illegal for most business purposes; however, governments and public entities such as police departments can apply for permission to operate them …
*Update: Contrary to the original report it appears that the unmanned aircraft was spotted near JFK Airport, not over Brooklyn skies.
This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on March 5, 2013