May 9, 2014 10:01 pm

US authorities say plane nearly collided with drone over Florida

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.

Dan Gunderson, Minnesota Public Radio/AP Photo

SAN FRANCISCO – U.S. officials say an airliner nearly collided with a drone in the sky over Florida in March.

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 use of drones has increased dramatically in the past few years as the devices have become cheaper and more accessible to the average consumer.

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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  700 metres.

The FAA has investigated the incident, but in a statement released Friday said 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 8 kilometres 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 Associated Press, 2014

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