Airliner nearly collided with drone

SAN FRANCISCO — Federal officials say a U.S. jet airliner 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 Thursday at a San Francisco drone conference, citing it as an example of the risks posed by drones.

“The risk for a small UAS (unmanned aircraft system) to be ingested into a passenger airline engine is very real,” Williams told the conference.

The near collision 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 pilot said the drone was at an altitude of about 2,300 feet, five miles northeast of the airport.

The FAA has investigated the incident, but said Friday it had been unable to identify the pilot or the drone’s operator.

“Our challenge is to integrate unmanned aircraft into the busiest, most complex airspace in the world,” the agency said. “Introduction of unmanned aircraft into America’s airspace must take place incrementally and with the interest of safety first.”

The law currently requires that private individuals flying drones notify the airport operator and air traffic control facility when flying within five miles of an airport, it added.

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 as the devices have become cheaper and more accessible to the average consumer.

Last week, the National Park Service issued a statement reminding visitors that federal regulations ban the use of drones within Yosemite National Park.

Drone sightings there have become a nearly daily occurrence in the venerated national park, with the devices buzzing loudly near waterfalls, above meadows or over treetops as guests use them to capture otherwise impossible-to-get photographs of the breathtaking landscape.

Scott Gediman, a park ranger for nearly two decades, said drones can interfere with emergency rescue operations and disrupt the activities of sensitive or endangered wildlife. “Most if not all of the people using these are simply unaware that they’re illegal,” Gediman said.

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