Federal authorities are investigating what could have been one of the first midair collisions between a manned aircraft and an unmanned “drone” over American soil. At around 1:15 p.m. today, the pilot of Alitalia flight 608 from Rome, Italy to John F. Kennedy airport in New York reported seeing a black, unmanned quadrocopter at an altitude of about 1,750 feet, according to the FBI, which is seeking public help to locate the vehicle’s operator.
The FBI report says the vehicle was about three miles from JFK’s runway, which puts it about a mile north of the western tip of Long Beach Island.
“The unnamed aircraft was described as black in color and no more than three feet wide with four propellers,” the FBI said in a release about the incident. Such quadrocopters are popular among hobbyists for their stability and maneuverability, but according to a Reuters report (which described the incident as taking place at a slightly lower altitude farther from the airport),
Under FAA safe operating rules, model aircraft should be flown no higher than 400 feet above ground and no closer to an airport than 3 miles, unless airport authorities have been notified.
The Reuters report quoted FAA spokesman Jim Peters as saying the pilot was able to land the Boeing safely without having to take evasive action.
Drone use over the U.S. has been a contentious issue of late – lawmakers have mandated a makeover in FAA regulations for the aircraft, but FAA brass and some state and local officials have privacy concerns about such use. The FAA is behind schedule on their mandated timeline for drone integration, which would install a regulatory structure around the use of unmanned aircraft over 400 feet and for commercial purposes.