A Drone? A Really Big Bird? A UFO? What Did Alitalia Pilot See Near JFK?

FAA Looking Into Pilot's Claim Of Seeing Unmanned Or Remote-Piloted Aircraft

LINK: News Story

NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) — A mystery in the sky over New York City on Monday got one commercial airline pilot’s attention.

The Federal Aviation Administration is investigating a report from the pilot, who claims he saw an unmanned or remote-controlled aircraft while on his final approach to John F. Kennedy International Airport.

The pilot, who was at the controls of Alitalia Flight AZA 60, spotted what may have been a drone about four to five miles southeast of the airport at an altitude of 1,500 feet while on final approach to Runway 31 Right at about 1:15 p.m.

The Alitalia flight landed safely minutes later.

Please stay with CBSNewYork.com for more on this developing story

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  • Jonathan we have talked about this already in these comments. In fact the entire section was posted but as patrick said it seems to lay out an exmption to future UAS regulations. I agree many people are unaware of it.  I read it the day it was release and was kind of happy to see it seperate model aircraft from UAS.

  • So, I think that everyone here should probably consider the difference between an opinion from a lawyer (which Patrick has kindly offered, and for which I am appreciative), versus specific legal advice from a lawyer which you have hired. - Dan Banks

    Precisely. That is exactly it. Everyone's situation is different. Some people are naturally more or less risk averse than others, and some people can afford to take legal risks that others cannot in a murky legal environment such as this. So while I have given my opinion about what is theoretically legal, that doesn't mean it is actually advisable for any particular individual to test those boundaries. Some may have a lot more to lose than others if they end up being wrong. And if you're not prepared to deal with an FAA safety inspector breathing down your neck, then you probably don't want to push things. I've been there and done that (last summer someone reported me to the FAA in retaliation for my petition to the AMA, and they contacted me over a video I made flying over my university campus), and while I successfully argued with them until they dropped the matter, not everyone is equipped to do that. So be careful, and choose wisely what kind of risks you're willing to take. 

  • Popular Science has an excellent article focusing on the legal ramifications of this event, and it mentioned something that I was totally unaware of: the model aircraft regulations are now part of federal law, and there is no altitude ceiling anymore. (Section 336; page 67 of the linked PDF)

    How was this not bigger news?

  • @ steve

    Ah, the luxury of lawyers to be able to argue technicalities (usually on someone else's nickel). The truth is you may have more leverage arguing your case than the rest of us who are licensed and must work in the airspace daily to earn our livings.

    This is an unfortunate truth that extends well beyond the topic of discussion here.  As much as we would like the law to be black and white, it often isn't.  And even if you follow the law, you can still get into some pretty hot water by simply pissing off the wrong person.  The consequences of simply having a legal battle - even if you "win" in the end - can be pretty serious.  Just take for example what happened to Mannie Garcia.

    So, I think that everyone here should probably consider the difference between an opinion from a lawyer (which Patrick has kindly offered, and for which I am appreciative), versus specific legal advice from a lawyer which you have hired.

    Now, as far as my (decidedly non-legal) opinion on how we should conduct our flight activities, I will offer this:  anyone who is screwing around with a flying model aircraft in the vicinity of full-scale traffic, or where full-scale traffic is common, is doing it wrong.  And even when we're flying in areas that are not busy with full-scale traffic, we still have an obligation to avoid conflicting with full-scale traffic at all costs.  To me (although I'm sure some will disagree) that means always maintaining direct visual surveillance of the airspace around our models (with the aid of a spotter when necessary), and always having the ability to take immediate evasive action.

    Lastly, even if the FARs do not all apply to operation of model aircraft, I have a hunch that endangering an aircraft is still still going to be a federal crime.  If shining a laser into the cockpit will land you in jail (it should and it can), then putting your UAV through someone's engine or windscreen should certainly qualify as well.

    Justice Department Statement Supports Mannie Garcia's Federal Civil Rights Lawsuit
    The U.S. Department of Justice has just filed a Statement of Interest in the federal civil rights lawsuit brought by photojournalist Mannie Garcia ag…
  • I'm with Nathaniel, we should not try to hide behind distinctions about what is legal, and act based on what is safe, and right in regard to airspace that has been in use long before RC or UAVs came along. I'd hate to be the guy who brings down a plane with reckless behavior, then claim no harm because there was no law covering it.

  • Developer

    (I haven't read the full thread but...) Carl: I'm a pilot.  If an object the size of a goose 200 feet away at 165kts, I could totally tell the difference of a drone from a bird.  Your mind captures those sorts of images very quickly.

  • I do agree with Carl now, after much review the story has changed with this pilot. He suddenly remembers so much detail on something he earlier generalized as just a drone. This is starting to stink a little. Of course now the AMA is assisting the FBI to find this rc drone pilot. This is the situation they have dreamed of, it will be interesting to watch how they spin this forward.
  • Any other pilots out there ? Comment please! this is getting ridiculous   What does a  object the size  of a seagull  look like when you are IFR glance out the window and it goes by within 200 feet at 160 kts plus? in my experience it is a  "Flash!" a dark object might have been a Canada /goose the pilot reported it said it could have been a drone he didn;t say it was hoovering stationary with 4 propellers or if it was a bird the 3rd feather in from the end of it's left wing was bent . If it was a Drone he would not have said "it  could have been ?" he would have said it "  Was". The media has got it and they are after ratings at the demise of R/C air craft

  • Thanks for the help Charles. For the record, of course I don't think it's a good idea to fly at 1500' in the approach route to a major airport. And if you read one of my earlier posts in this thread, I mentioned that one of the places I regularly fly in the park near my house is about 3 miles away from a busy general aviation airport with planes regularly flying overhead, and that when I'm flying there I rigidly stay below 400', usually below 200', and I am always ready to dive to tree level whenever I hear a plane coming. So I personally have plenty of experience with how to fly safely in the vicinity of airports and avoid air traffic simply by staying well below the altitudes they fly at. I would never dream of deliberately flying into the approach route at the same altitude as the air traffic.

    I personally am a strong advocate of simple common sense when it comes to this stuff. I don't need reams of regulations to tell me what is safe and what's not, and in my experience the FAA's ideas what is necessary for safety are simply absurd. So no I do not want more regulations. However I am equally annoyed by people making things up and pretending we are bound by rules that don't exist, then going around and criticizing others for "violating" these non-existent rules. So when people insist on perpetuating myths like the idea that the 400' limit is in any sense a binding rule, I will correct them.

    My entire point is--our hobby is currently more or less completely unregulated by the FAA, so we have a great deal of freedom here. So go out, use your common sense, and enjoy the freedom we have while it lasts, using it responsibly of course. That is all.

  • Charles,

    I agree with you and I'm sorry if I came across in a bad way. I just get pissed when someone threatens my rights by being stupid. I also think it's ok to fly above 400 feet - as long as common sense is applied.

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