U.S. passenger jet nearly collided with drone in March: FAA

By Alwyn Scott, Reuters, May 9, 2014

NEW
YORK (Reuters) – An American Airlines Group Inc aircraft almost
collided with a drone above Florida earlier this year, a near-accident
that highlights the growing risk from rising use of unmanned aircraft,
the U.S. air safety regulator said.

The pilot reported
seeing a small, remote-control aircraft very close to his plane while
preparing to land at Tallahassee Regional Airport, said Jim Williams,
manager of the Federal Aviation Administration’s Unmanned Aircraft
System Integration Office.

“The airplane pilot said
that the UAS was so close to his jet that he was sure he had collided
with it,” Williams said at an industry conference on Thursday, referring
to an unmanned aircraft system.

The aircraft, operated
by an American subsidiary, did not appear to be damaged when it was
inspected after the March 22 incident, Williams said.

But the incident served to highlight the risk of remote-control aircraft, he said.

U.S. passenger jet nearly collided with drone in March: FAA

“The
risk for a small UAS to be ingested into a passenger airline engine is
very real,” Williams said. “The results could be catastrophic.”

The
FAA currently bans the commercial use of drones in the United States
and is under growing pressure to set rules that would permit their
broader use. Hobby and many law-enforcement uses are permitted.

Last
year, the agency began establishing test sites where businesses can try
out commercial uses. [ID:nL2N0K90QW] Two of the centers have started
working ahead of schedule.

“The FAA is working
aggressively to ensure the safe integration of unmanned aircraft systems
into the national airspace,” the agency said in a statement.

The
March incident was reported to the Tallahassee control tower by the
pilot for Bluestreak Airlines, a US Airways commuter carrier. US Airways
is part of American Airlines.

The plane, a Bombardier CRJ-200, was a traveling from Charlotte, North Carolina, to Tallahassee.

It
was at 2,300 feet and about five miles from the airport when it
encountered the remote controlled jet. The FAA investigated but could
not identify the pilot of the drone.

American said it
is “aware of the published report alleging an incident with one of our
express flights and we are investigating.”

The airline said it would share any information with the FAA and would not comment further.

The incident was first reported by The Wall Street Journal.

In
his address to the Small Unmanned Systems Business Expo in San
Francisco, Williams also showed videos of several drone accidents,
including one in which a drone crashed into a crowd during the running
of the bulls in Richmond, Virginia, last fall.

The crash was caused by a battery failure and resulted in minor injuries, he said.

Williams
also noted the “Miracle on the Hudson,” in which birds hit the engine
of a flight leaving New York, prompting an emergency landing on the
river.

“Imagine a metal-and-plastic object, especially that big lithium battery, going into a high-speed turbine engine,” he said.

(Reporting by Alwyn Scott; Editing by Diane Craft)

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