Federal officials say a US plane nearly collided in March with an airborne drone in the sky over Tallahassee, Florida.
Jim Williams of the Federal Aviation Administration’s unmanned aircraft systems office acknowledged the incident on Thursday at a San Francisco drone conference, citing it as an example of the risks posed by integrating drones into US airspace.
“The risk for a small UAS (unmanned aircraft system) to be ingested into a passenger airline engine is very real,” Williams told the conference, pointing out that the famous 2009 “Miracle on the Hudson River” flight was forced to splash down in the water after a flock of geese went through its engines.
The near collision with the drone was reported to air traffic control on March 22 by the pilot of an American Airlines Group jet as the pilot approached the Tallahassee runway en route from Charlotte, North Carolina.
“The airline pilot said that the UAS was so close to his jet that he was sure he had collided with it,” Williams said.
“Thankfully, inspection of the airliner after landing found no damage.”
The incident appears to be the first case of a big US airliner nearly colliding with an airborne drone, although there have been other occasions of aircraft pilots seeing drones in flight, the Wall Street Journal reports.
The agency “is working aggressively to ensure the safe integration of unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) into the national airspace,” the FAA said in a statement on Friday, adding: “Our challenge is to integrate unmanned aircraft into the busiest, most complex airspace in the world. Introduction of unmanned aircraft into America’s airspace must take place incrementally and with the interest of safety first.”
The FAA has investigated the incident, but said it had been unable to identify the drone’s operator and whether it was a government or civilian drone.
American Airlines spokesman Paul Flaningan said the airline was aware of the alleged incident and that it was investigating the matter.
The use of drones has increased dramatically in the past few years as the devices have become cheaper and more accessible to the average consumer.