The Federal Aviation Administration reported Monday that there were three drone sightings in just as many days at John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York, one of the nation’s most heavily trafficked transportation hubs.
Following two sightings Friday, by pilots for JetBlue and Delta flights, a Shuttle America crew reported Sunday seeing a drone fly within 25 feet of the aircraft. When the pilot spotted the “black, four-rotor ‘quadcopter’ off his left wing,” the jet was only 15 feet from touching down on the runway.
While all three flights were able to land without incident, the damage could have been serious. An aviation expert told the New York Post, “If the drone were to hit the cockpit window and blind the pilot, or if it hit the plane, hit an engine, it could unbalance the plane, and the pilot could lose control.” Because of the potential results, FAA policy bans drones from flying within five miles of airports, unless the operator had prior communication with the airport and control tower. It’s not clear whether the drone operator (or operators) in this case was simply unaware of the FAA policy, was disregarding it, or actually intended to cause harm.
Sen. Chuck Schumer called for new protocols to protect commercial airplanes, including the implementation of geo-fencing technology in unmanned aircrafts, which could prevent them from flying in prohibited areas. This technology is already in effect in the nation’s capital—one major manufacturer’s drones can’t take off in or near Washington, D.C.
According to CBS New York, Schumer urged, “The FAA has to act and toughen up the rules before a tragedy occurs because if a drone were sucked into a jet engine of a plane filled with passengers untold tragedy could result and we do not, do not, do not want that to happen.”
Both privately and publicly, the FAA has been struggling for some time with unmanned aircraft regulation. After previously acknowledging only one near-collision, the administration revealed how widespread this problem really is. Its report from November 2014 detailed 25 incidents, only a sampling of the 175 reported by pilots in a six-month period. With this weekend of near misses and a renewed call for regulation, the FAA is again faced with the unenviable question of how best to keep drones out of no-fly zones.