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Airliners seeing more drones

Published: August 11, 2015
In spite of federal regulations, the soaring popularity of drones is fueling a trend of encounters with airliners.

The Federal Aviation Administration is investigating two July 31 incidents in which a drone flew close to an airliner on final approach at John F. Kennedy International Airport. Both flight crews reported a drone came within 100 feet of their aircraft.

At 2:24 pm, a JetBlue Airbus A-320 arriving from Port-Au-Prince, Haiti, reported that a drone passed just below the nose of the aircraft at an altitude of 800-900 feet. That afternoon, at 4:55 pm, a Delta MD-80 flight from Orlando, Fla., spotted a drone just off its right wing.

Neither aircraft took evasive action, and both landed safely. The FAA says it is unclear whether the incidents were related.

On Aug. 3, on approach to Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport, the pilot of a United/Shuttle America Embraer 170 encountered a twin-prop drone at 2,500 feet flying about 50 feet from the plane near Eagan, Minn. Authorities searched Eagan for the drone and its operator but found neither. And at about noon on Aug. 9, four different airliners spotted a drone at altitudes between 2,000 and 3,000 feet while approaching Liberty International Airport in Newark, N.J.

Federal rules prohibit flying a drone within five miles of an airport without permission and limit drone altitude to 400 feet for hobbyists. However, the FAA says it now averages about two reports per day from pilots who have spotted drones nearby.

Airliners are endangered by close-flying drones, which could cause serious damage by being sucked into an engine or crashing through a cockpit window. Legislators are calling for new, stricter regulation of drones near airports.