Skip to main content

Did Newark airport incident really involve a drone? DJI isn’t so sure

The reported sightings of up to two drones in the skies close to New Jersey’s Newark Liberty International Airport on January 22 prompted air traffic controllers to put 43 incoming flights into a holding pattern, while nine flights were diverted, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) confirmed.

But now questions are being raised over whether the objects, spotted at an altitude of around 3,500 feet, were in fact drones.

Related Videos

Speaking in a personal capacity via his Twitter account, Brendan Schulman, vice president of policy and legal affairs at drone giant DJI, speculated that the sightings — one by a United pilot and the other by a Southwest pilot — could possibly have been mistaken, suggesting the “drone” may actually have been something else, like a balloon or a bag.

Air traffic control audio obtained by ABC News includes one of the pilots describing what “looks like a drone” as the aircraft made its final approach, adding, “Missed the drone by about 30 feet off our right wing.”

The relevant authorities are continuing to investigate the incident, with the pilots’ precise descriptions of what they saw central to the investigation.

In a tweet, Schulman described the reported sightings as “just not credible,” considering the challenging conditions at the time.

“There’s certainly cases of knuckleheads flying drones where they shouldn’t be, but we have strong reservations on [the Newark] report,” Schulman told the Washington Post, adding, “There has been case after case after case of someone who saw a drone in the air that turned out to be a bat or a balloon or a plastic bag.”

Indeed, that was the thinking behind a similar incident at Heathrow Airport in 2017, with officials speculating that what was originally thought to have been a drone coming close to an airliner may in reality have been a plastic shopping bag. Furthermore, officials at Gatwick, one of the U.K.’s busiest airports, were forced to defend its decision to shut down the airport for 36 hours last month in response to apparent drone incursions, with some suggesting the sightings had been mistaken. No one has yet been charged in connection with the incident.

Whether or not the Newark sighting was real or mistaken, there are always going to be a few “knuckleheads” giving a bad name to the vast majority of drone owners who fly their machines responsibly. Just last month, for example, a man was caught flying a model aircraft in a field 500 meters from London’s Heathrow airport just days after the Gatwick chaos. There was no suggestion the operator was trying to cause disruption at Heathrow, but the court nevertheless deemed the incident serious enough to slap him with a fine of 2,000 British pounds (about $2,600).

To combat rogue drone flights in restricted airspace, a growing number of companies are developing a range of systems designed to take down the machines in a controlled manner. Such incursions not only present a danger to piloted aircraft in the air, but can also cost airport operators millions of dollars in disruption to business.

Editors' Recommendations

Nvidia may be putting an end to RTX 30-series graphics cards
Three Nvidia GeForce RTX 30-series graphics cards.

In a surprising twist, Nvidia's RTX 30-series Founders Edition graphics cards are no longer available for sale. You can still buy cards made by Nvidia's partners, but not the official FE versions prepared by Nvidia itself.

While the company's focus has been solely on the RTX 40 series lately, the RTX 30 cards are still some of the best GPUs. Fortunately, you can still get these cards elsewhere.

Read more
UFC PPV: How much is Edwards vs. Usman 3?
A UFC championship belt sitting on a table.

MMA fans are getting treated to two UFC pay-per-view events this month, with UFC 286: Edwards vs. Usman 3 being the second UFC PPV in March following Jon Jones' return at UFC 285. Since it's a pay-per-view, you'll need to hand over some cash to tune in. ESPN+ is the only outlet for streaming live UFC pay-per-view events like these in the United States, so if you're looking for a way to enjoy all the action online, read on. We've got everything you need to know about UFC pay-per-views on ESPN+, including how to sign up, how much it costs, and how you can save.

ESPN+ is a premium streaming service for all things sports, from MMA and boxing to soccer and much, much more. Since launching its streaming platform in 2018, ESPN has continued to develop a very close relationship with the Ultimate Fighting Championship, and in 2023, ESPN+ is the go-to app for streaming UFC content. It's also the only outlet where you can watch UFC pay-per-view events online. ESPN+ is compatible with virtually all modern PC web browsers and streaming-capable devices, which includes smartphones, tablets, smart TVs, and Xbox and PlayStation gaming consoles.

Read more
U.S. airports safer after software upgrades aimed at preventing taxiway landings
American Airlines Boeing 737 Max 8

Accidental taxiway landings by aircraft at busy airports are rare, but they nevertheless present a serious threat to passenger safety. At the current time, these so called “wrong-surface landings” are among the Federal Aviation Administration’s (FAA) top five five safety hazards in the national airspace system.

With planes using taxiways prior to takeoff, the consequences of such an erroneous landing are potentially catastrophic. And a number of near-misses have indeed occurred in the U.S. over the years.

Read more