A Drone And Plane Almost Collided Back In March

In what seems to be the first ever case of its kind, a U.S. Airways plane nearly collided with a drone last March, a Federal Aviation Administration official revealed Thursday. The pilot said he saw the drone hovering around at 2,300 feet over Tallahassee Regional Airport in Florida, and it apparently came so close to his plane that he thought they’d crashed into one another. So, there’s another reason to hate drones.

What remains unclear in this situation is who this drone belonged to, who was piloting it, and what it was doing so close to the plane. A Defense Department official didn’t comment on the incident, but noted that most military drones don’t have camouflage markings, as this one did. Well, “most” isn’t “all,” so that’s not very helpful. When asked to comment on the incident, a spokesperson for the drone lobby (which exists, obviously) blamed the FAA for dragging its feet in implementing regulations for unmanned aircraft.

"A lot of people already fly [drones] without rules and regulation. It's almost a free for all," said Gretchen West of Association For Unmanned Vehicle Systems International. "[It] goes back to the FAA. They have to come up with the rules to create a safe environment."

FAA regulations do require anybody flying a drone within five miles of an airport to notify air traffic controllers; however, the pilot was flying under “visual flight rules” at the time, meaning most of the responsibility for monitoring air traffic was his responsibility, not that of air traffic control. And while commercial flights have a system for detecting possible collisions before they happen, that system requires both planes to have a transponder, which drones lack. As such, the head of the FAA’s drone office, Jim Williams, warned that “the risk for a small [drone] to be ingested into a passenger airline is very real.”

In March 2013, a drone came within 200 feet of an Alitalia flight over John F. Kennedy International airport in New York. The FBI said on Friday that it’s “still investigating” that one, so it may be while until we get any answers on this most recent incident.