Pilot Spots Possible Drone 1,500 Feet Above NYC's JFK Airport... FAA launches investigation

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

Views: 10036

Comment by Dwgsparky on March 5, 2013 at 9:31am

The 400foot is a recommendation from a 1981 paper regarding RC models and the AMA. IT is NOT law. and I would challenge that it could EVER be enforced if it was.!

How does the average RC pilot ( and I have been flying for over 30yrs ) know IF he is above 400 feet? Ok, I know if I am over 1000feet but how do I know if I'm at 450feet ? Not everyone has or needs telemetry radios.


Comment by Jason Short on March 5, 2013 at 12:14pm


I guess the drone in question was a quad copter and the pilot claims it was within 200 ft of aircraft at 1500 feet. The FBI is now looking for the pilot of the quad. This could be very bad news if true. What A-hole flies so high in a flight path? I mean, it's not like these planes come out of nowhere. They fly through there like a bus route, one after another.


Comment by Rob_Lefebvre on March 5, 2013 at 12:34pm

Well, to be fair...  the professional aviation community does not make this easy. 

I was talking about this stuff with a co-worker, and he told me that our entire city is blanketed by a Restricted Airspace due to a military airbase nearby.  I was concerned, so tried to figure out if that was true, and just how big the restricted airspace was.  I'm pretty decent with google, but I CANNOT figure it out.  I think I found some documents that describe this, but they do not provide a map.  Rather a bunch of vectors.

And then there's the whole problem of AF pilots hot-dogging it over our small town 15 miles away at low altitude!

Comment by Jonathan Price on March 5, 2013 at 1:09pm

The airspace around JFK is restricted down to the surface to a distance of about 8 miles. All airports have the same restriction, although not usually that far. That means that nothing is supposed fly in that airspace without ATC or traffic clearance. Not to 1500 feet, not 400, nothing.

Please, please, please, everyone, get the charts for your area and learn to read them before you fly.

Comment by Patrick McKay on March 5, 2013 at 1:16pm

Well, no manned aircraft is supposed to. The FAA has not published any rule making airspace class restrictions applicable to model aircraft. So while it's probably a bad idea to fly in restricted airspace, it is not illegal.

Comment by Robert M on March 5, 2013 at 1:39pm
Whatever the case may be -and let's hope it turns out the pilot saw something else- if you are willing to take the risk of flying outside of LOS, find yourself a wide isolated area and for G*d's sake get yourself some aviation maps! Identify lanes, airports and patterns and stay WELL clear of them. No one should be flying five miles from an airport, let alone a major international hub. If you lose signal, or video, or there is an AP or ESC malfunction of some sort, things can go pear-shaped in a way you do not intend. You are taking a risk you do not want to be taking (for that matter the same goes for most of us, pilots and passengers, and the folks doing their best to keep air traffic safe at ATC and the FAA).
Comment by Greg Fletcher on March 5, 2013 at 1:40pm

Either this copter was out of control or it was loitering there on purpose. Maybe this nimrod was taking video of ariving airliners and hopefully he will post it on youtube so the FBI can trace his ip address and get this idiot. Endangering an airliner has got to be a serious federal offence. I hope they make an example out of him.

Comment by Nathaniel Caner on March 5, 2013 at 3:16pm

The topic of the 400' altitude limit is a subject I have been considering for some time now as well as the 3 mile rule (or 5 mile depending on what you read, more on that later). As a matter of fact I have scheduled a meeting of club members at my local field to discuss these topics later this month. There are 4 documents I have referenced below, some of wich have been referred to by several other people above. The fist is the FAA Advisory Circular

AC 91-57 this was originally released June 9, 1981 and has been the guidepost by which we hobbyists have been expected to govern our actions. It states the following with respect to altitude and proximity to an airport:

Do not fly model aircraft higher than 400 feet above the surface. When flying aircraft

within 3 miles of an airport, notify the airport operator, or when an air traffic facility is located at

the airport, notify the control tower, or flight service station.

By comparision the AMA safety code statees the following:

Not fly higher than approximately 400 feet above ground level within three (3) miles of an airport, without notifying the airport operator.

Note the difference in punctuation between the two excerpts? AC91-57 makes two separate statements, one about altitude and one about proximity to an airport; the AMA safety code makes one single statement with two distinct parts. In AC 91-57 it clearly states 'DO NOT fly higher than 400' above ground level.' That's a period at the end of that statement! Separately it states that 'WHEN you are within 3 miles of an airport, notify the airport operator'. Meanwhile the AMA Safety Code makes it sound as though it is only necessary to limit your altitude to below 400' IF you are withinn 3 miles of an airport. Does anyone else read this the way I am?


Next there are differences in several documents with regard to proximity to an airport. FAA AC 91-57, AMA Safety code both show a distance of 3 miles, however the newer Public Law 112-95, dated February 14, 2012, in Sec 336 a-5

when flown within 5 miles of an airport, the operator

of the aircraft provides the airport operator and the airport

air traffic control tower (when an air traffic facility is located

at the airport) with prior notice of the operation (model aircraft

operators flying from a permanent location within 5 miles of

an airport should establish a mutually-agreed upon operating

procedure with the airport operator and the airport air traffic

control tower (when an air traffic facility is located at the


So which is it, three miles or five and is PLAW 112-95 a guide or Law as the name suggests?? Based solely on the date I would tend to go with the 5 mile distance.

Lastly is the subject of range of flight. Througout all these documents there is one common thread VLOS. Visual Line Of Sight is to be maintained at all times by the operator of model aircraft. This means sight without the aid of any measn other than standard prescription eyewear not FPV equipment. AMA-560 'Advance Flight Systems' states the following about Autonymous flight:

AMA members flying radio controlled model aircraft equipped with flight stabilization and

autopilot systems must maintain VLOS with the aircraft at all times including programmed waypoint flight.


I know it is very common for people to break these rules, and people make the analogy of speeding 5 mph over the posted speed limit 'everybody does it'. Everybody might be doing it but the media isn't whipping up hysteria over the issue like they are with Drones and model aircraft it the National Airspace.


Food for thought.....I'd really like to here other peoples interpretations of these documents.



Nathaniel ~KD2DEY


FAA AC 91-57 (via AMA ModelAircraft.org)

2012 AMA Safety Code (via AMA ModelAircraft.org)

See and Avoid Guidance (via AMA ModelAircraft.org)

PLAW 112-95 (via FAA.gov)

Advanced Flight Systems AMA-560 (via AMA ModelAircraft.org)

Comment by Patrick McKay on March 5, 2013 at 3:24pm

It's common to break them because they AREN'T RULES. Neither the FAA's recommendations in Advisory Circular 91-57 nor the AMA Safety Code are legally binding and enforceable documents. To quote Jack Sparrow, "they're more like guidelines than actual rules." As for the Public Law, it doesn't establish legally binding rules for modeling either. All it does is define the parameters of a "safe harbor" style exemption from FAA regulations, regulations which haven't even been written yet. So while it's true for example that beyond visual line of sight FPV would not be able to take advantage of the exemption, you don't even need to at this point because there are no rules to be be exempt from. The provisions of the Public Law are not rules in themselves.

Comment by Nathaniel Caner on March 5, 2013 at 3:33pm

All this differentiation between weather something is a rule or a law makes no sense to me. just because you may not be able to be prosecuted for breaking a law doesn't mean it's either right or wrong. It is safe to say that if people push the envelope too far beyond the reccomendations or guidelines and exhibit poor judgement in their activities we will all suffer the consequences of those action with very restrictive laws that can be enforced if we don't see outright bans as are being proposed in at least 13 states right now.



Nathaniel ~KD2DEY


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