If you thought noisy unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) invading peaceful national parks was a problem, wait till you hear about another drone-related issue causing concern for those charged with keeping our skies safe.
The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) recently confirmed that a US Airways plane came close to colliding with a drone back in March, adding that the aircraft could potentially have been brought down had the pair hit.
Speaking about the near miss for the first time on Thursday, FAA official Jim Williams said the UAV came so close to the jet that the plane’s pilot was “sure he had collided with it.”
He added, “Thankfully, an inspection of the airliner after landing found no damage.” The identity of the drone operator is currently still unknown.
The incident took place at about 2300 feet near Tallahassee Regional Airport in Florida, Williams told a conference in San Francisco two days ago. The 50-seat jet was flying from Charlotte, North Carolina when the pilot spotted the drone.
According to reports, it looked more like a hobbyist’s model aircraft than a quadcopter, a drone design that’s been growing in popularity thanks to their improved technology and falling prices.
As the law currently stands, model aircraft operators must inform airport authorities if they intend to fly such a machine within five miles of an airport. In addition, FAA guidelines stipulate that hobbyists flying UAVs must ensure they take them no higher than 400 feet.
Williams told his audience it was of paramount importance to develop “solutions and answers [for drones] before we risk the safety of the world’s safest aviation system,” adding that if a drone is sucked into an aircraft’s engine, “the results could be catastrophic.”
The US Airways incident isn’t the first time a drone has come unnervingly close to colliding with an airliner. The FBI is reportedly still investigating an incident that took place earlier this year when a UAV came within just a couple of hundred feet of an Al Italia plane in New York.