Drone Sightings by Pilots Near JFK Airport Under U.S. FAA Review

U.S. aviation regulators are investigating three reports since Nov. 16 of drones flying close to airliners near New York’s John F. Kennedy International Airport.

Pilots on a JetBlue Airways Corp. flight told the Federal Aviation Administration they spotted a drone as they approached JFK yesterday at 1:50 p.m. local time, the agency said in a statement.

Crews on two flights nearing JFK, one operated by Delta Air Lines Inc. and the other by Virgin Atlantic Airways Ltd., saw an unmanned aircraft shortly after 8 p.m. on Nov. 16, according to the statement.

“The reports did not indicate any of the pilots took evasive action,” the FAA said in the statement. “All three flights landed safely.”

The FAA has struggled to control the rapidly growing use of unmanned aircraft by those who haven’t been schooled in the agency’s safety rules. The agency’s legal authority to regulate civilian drones was upheld on Nov. 18 by the National Transportation Safety Board.

While the FAA permits recreational unmanned aircraft flights by hobbyists, the agency says they aren’t allowed within five miles (8 kilometers) of airports and should never be flown near traditional aircraft. The agency hasn’t approved drone flights for commercial purposes -- except for an exemption granted to six Hollywood movie makers and two oil companies in the Arctic region of Alaska.

Previous Incidents

Those rules haven’t stopped people from sending small unmanned copters and planes aloft, according to videos on YouTube.com, FAA reports and interviews with operators.

The New York incidents are the latest near airports.

The Delta and Virgin Atlantic planes were flying 10 miles (16 kilometers) northeast of JFK when they spotted the drone Nov. 16, the FAA said. The JetBlue pilots were two miles southeast of the airport, according to the agency.

Pilots on a US Airways flight in March said they saw an unmanned aircraft flying near them as they approached Tallahassee Regional Airport in Florida, according to the FAA.

The drone, which the pilots said was a replica of a fighter jet, came so close to the airliner that the pilot “was sure he had collided with it,” James Williams, chief of the FAA’s unmanned aircraft office, said in a speech in May.

Pilots on an Alitalia SpA flight nearing JFK reported a drone helicopter came within about 200 feet on March 4, 2013. The Federal Bureau of Investigation opened an investigation.

Pilots have reported at least six other cases in which they spotted what they believed were small unmanned aircraft from September 2011 through May, according to NASA’s Aviation Safety Reporting System, which logs safety issues.

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